Last Friday evening, just after I stepped onto the Red Line train to North Dallas, a homeless man approached my area of the car with a cup in his hand.
"Can you spare me a little change, brother," he asked the fellow standing just in front of me.
The guy ignored the beggar, so, he moved to me.
I saw him coming, in more ways than one, so I greeted him and exchanged a lively handshake.
"So, where are you staying?" I asked.
I heard the word "bridge," and assumed he meant The Bridge, Dallas' new homeless assistance center Downtown.
"Oh, you're at The Bridge," I followed.
"No, man," he responded, "The Bridge is too crowded and they won't let us stay there. Me and my old lady live under the bridge," he explained. "I'm trying to get about seven bucks to buy us some dinner."
"Oh, I see," I replied.
"Can you spare me some change," my new friend pressed--he had the rest of the train to work and needed a decision from me.
I dropped the change I had in my pocket from the train ticket vending machine into his paper cup.
"Thanks, brother, God bless you," he said with a huge toothless smile.
As he shuffled down the aisle, looking for others to approach, I began to think about the impact of a "No."
People ask me all of the time, "What should I do about panhandlers on the street?"
I gotta tell you, I don't have a clue. I understand all of the arguments on both sides. And, I have no consistent position or track record in terms of how I respond. At times, I give freely. At other times I have turned away with a short "No," or worse, I have simply pretended not to see or to hear.
But, as I rode the train up the rail without the burden of navigating the heavy traffic, I thought about the power and the nature of "No" when spoken to another human being.
"No" is about judgment.
"No"--there is no possible way that verdict can be endearing, connecting or anything but total rejection in a moment.
"No," especially, I think, in a chance encounter does not help any one.
I have no answer for the gentleman who approached me Friday night as we cut through the growing darkness of a busy city. I don't understand how he got to the place in life that his best option is begging on a commuter train and sleeping under a freeway bridge. I have no brilliant intervention to offer. I have no chance to really do much with him.
But it occurs to me that "No" is not what he needed to hear, and it's not what I needed to say.
As I was lost in my thoughts, the train made a stop.
Another homeless man boarded. He carried a large, thick, well-used study Bible of some variety. A backpack attached to his back, he struggled to unfold and to count a wad of dollar bills that he clutched in his hands. I suppose he had made his supper money for the evening. He asked for nothing as he settled into the ride north.
I wondered how many "No" verdicts he had dealt with before collecting the treasure that would make his night a bit less harsh.
For a personal perspective provided by a homeless young man from the streets of Denver on the whole matter of how it feels to encounter rejection on the streets, take a look here.