A man approached the car when I was coming home from the grocery store a few months ago. The kids were nestled in their car seats. Bags filled with vegetables, snacks and other foods were on the floor. I had some change in the pocket.
The man asked if I had any change or food, he said his car was broken down and he was waiting for AAA. There was, in fact, a car with its hood up behind him.
Normally, I wouldn’t mind handing the man something. But I was in a bad mood. I was stressed out with the kids. I’d just been let go.
As we drove away, a 5-year-old Jiminy Cricket in the back seat peeked up.
“Why didn’t we help him?”
The “we” hit me hard.
Well, I said, I wasn’t sure if he really needed it.
“He seemed like he did.”
I didn’t want to get into it. I thought about the time I handed a man on Baltimore street in Hanover my lunch. The time I bought a guy pizza on Wilkes-Barre’s square. I truly believe hay of you have it, you’re morally compelled to help. I try to live that. To me, it’s not a political thing. It’s not even quite a religious thing, though it probably comes from the lessons I learned at Mass.
So we turned the car around and tried to find the man.
The car was still there. The man wasn’t. But the evidence suggested he wasn’t lying. The car had Delaware plates. But even if he was, there’s no harm in helping anyone eat. Michael was disappointed, so I promised him that we’d keep a can of soup in the car if we saw anyone like that again.
I read the first two chapters of “A Christmas Carol” to the kids as we drove up to Molly’s family this thanksgiving. It really is a potent and powerful morality play about haves and have-nots. Scrooge’s miserliness is a major part of his character.
It shows up in his exchange with Fred.
“Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”
“Come, then,” returned the nephew gaily. “What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.”
But a moment later, it’s truly driven home.
“At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge, … it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?”
“Plenty of prisons…”
“And the Union workhouses.” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“Both very busy, sir…”
“Those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
As I read this, I thought of modern conservatives, pretending to be libertarians but really being anarchists hell-bent on individualism at the cost of the common good.
Then Jiminy Cricket piped up from the backseat.
“He’s like you when you didn’t give that man any help.”