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The source of my stupefaction 0

Yo Shaw,

Paola’s a new student at our school, a nun and (not surprisingly) a kind lady. While discussing charity during our first lesson together, I said I felt uncomfortable giving beggars money. Though I do give money sometimes, especially to street musicians and wrinkled prunes of people, I more often offer food and, believe it or not, most beggars refuse me.

When I first arrived in Rome 10 years ago, I gave money more willingly, but having since witnessed my fair share of tomfoolery over the years, I’ve become skeptical. For example, on my way to work every morning, I pass a lady tucked into a corner of Piazza della Repubblica. She’s always there with her dog, begging change. Returning to the metro last Saturday after my usual six hours of lessons, I was shocked to find her smiling and laughing while talking on her cell phone. That she has money for a cell phone is not the source of my stupefaction. The fact that she has people to call and who can call her… on her cell phone is what dumbfounds me.

As I’ve mentioned in previous letters, I’ve seen beggars talking on cell phones, sporting designer jeans or dyed streaks in their hair, or who are so overweight they’re far from starving. I realize these people survive on charity and that’s fine but I prefer to give money to notable organizations like the Red Cross, PETA, or even First Book, a nonprofit organization that provides new books for children in need. This guarantees my hard-earned cash goes to those who are undeniably lacking.

Returning to my lesson with Paola, she told me about a man who begs on her church’s steps, and the church’s pastor who recently asked him why he didn’t get a job. The man said he’d had a job at a supermarket and earned more money begging.

I was speechless. After all, we’re not talking about carrot cake or whoops-a-daisy here. Something is amiss in a society where people can make more money begging than they can from an honest day’s work. I don’t want to seem callous or cruel. My point here is that, if you ask me, anyone who works should make more than a person who begs, shouldn’t they?

Anyway, that’s my opinion and, I admit, not being a sociologist, what do I know about such things? Many of us are beggars in one way or another, aren’t we? Most people want something from life: more money, better health, a competent plumber. I say give whenever and to whomever you want to give. If you feel good about giving, then it’s the right thing to do. But remember the words of the Enlightened One, who said, “If you knew the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it.”

Then there you go though, right Shaw? Buddha’s talking about food, not money, eh?

I rest my case.

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