This afternoon during lunch, a visually handicapped man carrying a fistful of ballpoint pens came up to our table. There was an uneasy silence, the shy glances around to see if anybody would do anything or turn the man away. He claimed he was supporting his parents and he looked pretty sincere about it.
All the years of pent-up guilt, of not giving to beggars or buskers overwhelmed me, and I bought a pen from him. In fact I felt so guilty that I told him he could keep the change if he didn't have any. He gave me my change, nevertheless. He said a few God Bless You's to everyone, then left.
Does the pen work? Someone joked. I drew a blue line on my napkin. I was glad it worked. On our way out of the coffeeshop, I noted that he managed to sell three other pens in a matter of minutes. Going by the rate of sales, we calculated that he could very well earn over S$200 an hour, in crowded areas.
However when I went back and tested the pen again, it dried out. On normal paper. And on other, normal paper. I was starting to worry. Was my faith in that man misguided? What if all those stories I've been hearing about fraudsters pretending to collect for charity, or beggars who live in condominiums (there was such a guy in Bristol who used to beg outside the Hawthornes), were true?
Finally, my last scribble on a Post-It pad proved that the pen was still working. My mind was put to rest. I felt a little bad for doubting the courteous man.
I then decided that the next time I feel the urge to give to someone, I'll do it. There's no point wondering whether the handicapped beggar is really handicapped. Or whether he's earning much more than you are by just sitting in an underground passageway, playing a keyboard. If they tell me they really need the money to feed their family, as far as I'm concerned, I'll believe them. Call me a fool, but it's their own conscience they have to answer to, and to God as well, if anyone was deceived. It's not like they want a million bucks from us, anyway, just some loose change. I should be grateful that I still have a job, that I'm still getting paid, that I still have some money to spend.
At Bible Studies class this evening, we covered the final chapters of the book of John, where Christ visited the 'doubting' Thomas to prove He had risen from the dead. I realised I've become cynical myself, led by stories of deception, of trust being breached, and doubt becomes a human defence mechanism. What you don't believe in, won't hurt you. So, we tend to not believe in anything, or hardly anything, at all.
In a world full of deceptions, what we need is the power of discernment. That is something I should pray for.