Is He Homeless? Is He Helpless?

by Kathy Coogan

One hot day this summer I experienced the confluence of cynicism and empathy. I was driving down a highway interchange onto a city street. Mine was the first car at the red light at the end of the ramp.

To my immediate left stood a robust looking man, say forty years old, youngish from my perspective. He wore a clean red tee shirt hanging outside his khaki shorts. His neat hair was a dish-water blonde, curling slightly above his neckline.

He held a square of cardboard on which was printed, “I have colon cancer.”

I looked him in the eyes. He smiled and wiggled the sign at me. I looked away. The light stayed red. I squirmed in my seat.

I could have lowered my window and touched him, or he, me. I wished the light would change. The morning was very hot – over 100 on the suffering index. He stood in the shade of the overpass. Smart.

My left brain, a Doubting Thomas, thought, “Faker,” as my right brain, a kinder gentler soul, commiserated, “H’mm, could be.”

A bolder woman with the courage of her convictions might have rolled down her window and engaged him. “What are your symptoms? Do you have ascites? How long have you been sick? Do you have a port? A colostomy bag? How can you stand this heat if you are ill?”

My brother-in law died at age 55 of colon cancer after a long nasty battle. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone so I hope that this man is lying. If he is lying, he might make a few bucks by fooling a few soft-hearted folks. But he should be very careful about the message he sends out into the universe.

Life is funny. Sometimes you get what you deserve.

When Cynicism is Trumped by Generosity

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