So You Made a Little Money

Last night coming out of Tai Chi class, a lady asked if she could walk to the parking lot with someone. Since Leslie and I had parked in the same lot, we gladly accompanied her.

Originally,we were going to take the shortest route, through the alley and around the corner, less than a fourth of a block. Just as we started down the alley, though, I spotted a man in the shadows who appeared to emerge from a pile of garbage sacks.

I suggested we go back and go the long way rather than through the dark alley, discretion increasingly seeming the better choice as I get older and wiser, not to mention weaker.

Strangely, I felt a little ashamed about turning around and avoiding the man. I made an instant judgment about him based on very little. It seemed obvious he was spending the night sleeping on, and under, garbage sacks on the coldest night of the year. How could you help but feel sympathy for his situation? I’m not even sure if I would have blamed him if he had robbed someone to get money to spend the night inside, though I had no desire to be his victim.

Increasingly this Christmas I find myself listening to Tracy Chapman’s songs, particularly,


So you made a little money
Off of somebody else’s sweat
So some people starve a little
While you get fat
While you get fat

So you grind and grind
And you push and shove
Claim that those most worthy
Get what they deserve
What they deserve

Can’t be true
Can’t be true
’cause I’ve seen too many hungry faces
I’ve seen too many with the likes of you
Can’t be true

For you everything has it’s price
You give nothing away for free
If silence were truly golden
I guess no one could sleep
No one could sleep

You have money at your fingertips
People at your beck and call
And you’re fool enough
To think for a price
You can have the whole wide world

For all our sakes
And all our lives
We must hope the words
That come from your lips
We must hope those words are lies

For all our sakes
All our lives
We must hope the dreams
Soulless visions that you have
Are never realized

You’ve got a big house
And you drive a fancy car
So what if your pockets are full
If you have an empty heart

You snap your fingers
And all the waters part
So what if the people bow down
If they show you no regard

Your left hand
Always watches your right
So what if you trust in God
If you can’t sleep at night

You think you’ve made it
You think you’ve got what everyone wants
So what if you’re a big fat man
With an empty little heart

Who has made a little money
Off of somebody else’s sweat
Watching people starve
While you got fat
While you got fat
You got fat
You got fat

as much as I do listening to more traditional songs by Bing Crosby or Gene Autry, wondering how much meaning Christmas still has for me.

On the good side, the incident reminded me I haven’t seen any Salvation Army bell ringers at Safeway this year. Perhaps they were banned like they were at Target. After all, we wouldn’t want people’s Christmas mood spoiled by being reminded of the poor, would we?

I’ll have to send a check off in the mail since it was my mother’s favorite charity, though personally I’ve always found their religious overtones less than appealing.

4 thoughts on “So You Made a Little Money”

  1. Hey Loren,

    I think you need to give yourself a little break on this. It sounds to me like you intuited the situation, not judged the man. Had you seen the same man in a safer environ, you’d have given him the compassion I’m confident you have.


  2. I think I was trying to somehow express the ambiguous feelings, along with some guilt, I feel towards the poor.

    I spent much of my life as a social worker and teacher trying to help people break out of these circles of poverty and despair, but I’ve always been more likely to give money to environmental causes than to groups helping the poor.

    As the gap between rich and poor grows and an increasing number of poor people are unable to get any help, though, I feel more and more the need to give directly.

  3. My grandmother always gave to the Salvation Army too, and she once told me it was because when my grandfather was in a Field Hospital during the Dardanelles campaign in WW1 the only person who ever stopped and spoke to him at visiting time was a SA member. All the other ‘pastoral’ visitors belonged to different branches of the Christian Church – Catholic, Anglican, Church of Scotland, Baptist, etc – and when they visited the ward the first thing they did was look for members of their own ‘flock’, which was shown at the end of the beds. Because my grandfather belonged to the Free Church of Scotland – a fairly small branch with no ministers there – he was completely ignored. I believe he stopped attending church after the war, except for weddings and funerals.

  4. Oh boy did I have one of those moments this last summer. I was riding my too expensive bike past some migrant workers picking cucumbers. I likely burned more calories on that ride, playing, than they ate after working. The bike I was on was likely more expensive than many of the cars they drive if they own one at all. The angst.

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