This I Believe

Jonathan - Nixa, Missouri
Entered on June 9, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
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Most of the time, I believe in the power of Pollyanna.

Sometimes, I wonder if such a hopeful view of the world is idealistic or naïve. Do I risk being made a fool of? Or will thinking the best of those around me spread?

When I can find the courage to be optimistic, I find naysayers often shake their heads in disbelief. Years ago, my best friend visited with his new girlfriend, a woman who loved to debate. We had recently moved, and while sharing discoveries about our new city, I mentioned how many street people there seemed to be.

My solution? Talk to the folks and give them some money. Maybe they’d use it for food instead of booze. Maybe they’d think, “Hey, this guy is treating me like a person. Maybe I can get out of this hole.”

“Or maybe they’re thinking, ‘There goes another sucker,’” my friend’s girlfriend said with a laugh.

My face started to burn, but I resisted the urge to fire back. Instead, I said simply I preferred to think the best of people. I felt weak, unable to support my view intellectually.

Still, I cling to Pollyanna. Each week after swimming lessons, my kids and I stop by a downtown coffee shop, and on a recent evening, an unshaven man stood near the entrance as we approached. After some small talk, he said, “I haven’t had anything to eat all day. Do you have any change?”

I dismissed him quickly, saying I’d have some when I got out of the shop. My first instinct was to shuttle my children past, to avoid having to explain about drinking, drugs, depravity. As we stood in line, I thought about the conversation from years ago. Another sucker.

The same foolish rush shot through me as I leaned outside: “C’mon in. I’ll buy you a sandwich.”

I stood by him, strangely unafraid of the glances we were receiving. I introduced Bernard to my three kids and told him to order anything on the menu.

He’d come to town hoping to reconcile with his girlfriend, but she wouldn’t have anything to do with him. So he was stuck here, without money, without a way home. Why was he broke? He’d hurt his back on the job, and he hadn’t received his latest disability check. While we were chatting, he found it difficult to stand and sat down.

An elaborate act, perhaps. At that point, I didn’t care whether I was being had; I was merely helping another person. And for that moment, he was thankful and gracious — and sober.

I explained to my kids that sometimes the best way to help someone who’s hungry is to buy them a meal. I told the truth: If you give money, they may use it for alcohol or drugs.

My 9-year-old, thought for a moment and said, “I don’t think he’d use it for alcohol.”

I smiled to myself and admitted, “I don’t either.”