Walking around the streets of Oxford, any moment can lead to a small adventure thanks to the antiquity and history-rich environment where I am currently based. On one of my first days here, I just kept walking until I came across Christchurch Meadow, a scenic area to run in (which I did not do). A few weeks ago, I found a pub I quite like. Last week, I wound up taking a contemporary dance class at Wadham College. Today, I found a little bookshop down a street I usually don’t walk in that sells paperbacks for £2. And in the next few weeks, I plan on scoping out Tolkien and Lewis’s graves when these showers let up.
A lot of walking is involved in my daily routine – I obviously can’t drive here (and driving’s not really as commonplace in England, not with their great public rail systems), don’t want to pay for a bus pass, and have not the patience to learn how to ride a bike on the opposite side of the road and around the weird roundabouts.
It’s good exercise, but there are some downsides – one being that when it rains, it pours. Carrying my books, groceries, and umbrella with wind gusts fighting against me is not the ideal way to go home after a long day.
The other downside is that it’s basically impossible to walk down either side of the streets without encountering a homeless person ask for spare change. I don’t have a problem with homeless people, not in the least, but I hate that feeling that I get when I have to walk on by, making no eye contact.
“Can you possibly spare some change, madam?”
It’s really hard to ignore that, especially when it’s phrased in that manner. Judge me, do whatever, I know I’m not Mother Theresa. But all of my Ventura friends reading this, you really can’t judge me, because I KNOW you don’t empty out your pockets for the homeless downtown. Of course, I’ve noticed that the homeless here tend to be more polite than anywhere I’ve been. Oh England…
It hurts to have to do that. One of these days, I would like to buy one of them a hot coffee (or tea, which is probably more appropriate), but I can’t do that every day either.
Yesterday I was walking out of the Bodleian Library, ready to brave the heavy winds on the way to my flat. Suddenly, a young woman – probably in her late twenties or so – with dyed red hair and quite a bit of makeup approaches me, rambling something along the lines of…
“I’m so sorry, I feel like such a t**t for bothering you – It’s just that my boyfriend – police – domestic violence case – have no where to stay tonight – just need four pounds – I really feel like an idiot, a t**t – no one’s been helping me – are you able to spare anything?“
Honestly, I couldn’t follow her story. But I did have a sort of WWJD moment in which I thought to myself, maybe it’s the truth, maybe it’s not. But I don’t want to walk away from this situation with the slightest inkling that I perhaps didn’t help someone who needed it.
I was thinking two things at once initially: a) Would she have approached me if she had known I was American; not really a native here, and b) If her request had been less than genuine, did she figure that I looked like an easy target?
I was thinking all of these things simultaneously as I pulled out the four pound coins from my wallet, and handed them to her. She thanked me graciously, I bid her well, and we both went our respective ways.
The whole mile walk back to my place, I was thinking about whether or not I’m perceived as malleable or convincible by strangers. It’s gutsy to ask money from a stranger. Maybe I do have that look about me – perhaps my height (or lack thereof) has something to do with me being easy to approach. Then I thought, maybe that can make me perceived as weak.
I’ll never know whether her story was true or not – I know she wasn’t homeless, her all black and leather attire and heels spoke for that – but it doesn’t matter. If being compelled to do something good makes me weak, so be it.
I share this little episode not as a way of saying, “Hey look at me, I’m practically THE GOOD SAMARITAN!!!” I’m definitely not that. What I would like to emphasize, however is that acts of kindness – however little – should never be looked down on. A person who gives a stranger a dollar which, unbeknownst to them, goes towards the stranger’s drug habit should not be referred to by words like “gullible” or “naïve.” A guy who refuses to comment on the attractiveness of a girl while around his buddies out of respect for his significant other should not be perceived as “whipped” or “buzzkill.” And people in general who practice courtesy, particularly to those who don’t return the favor are not suck-ups or weak – they’re what I would like to be more of.