The price of a pie – “A person’s a person, no matter how small”

A couple of months ago I was out with my son when a perfect teachable moment came our way – I just didn’t realise that it would be me who learned the most from it.

He sits at a city bus stop in oily trousers and a checkered shirt.  His lined face and cloudy grey eyes tell a hard story.  Beside him, in a brown paper bag is his only possession; a bottle that he guards and shepherds closer to his side at intervals.  He sits in an inconvenient position with hand extended to strangers who are determined not to see him.  They, of course, are doing the “right thing”; you don’t give money to an alcoholic, right?

I’m going to walk by too, except that the idea of walking by is sticking in my throat.  It’s sticking there because of the hand I’m holding, the hand that’s almost (but not quite) as big as mine – the hand of a boy who one day too soon will be a man.

This boy has heard me talk about mercy and compassion all of his life and yet now he watches me walk by a person… a human being… as though he is none of my concern.  He watches me doing what everyone before me has done and I can’t take another step. I can’t bear for him to grow up and believe that others must earn our compassion, that only the good or perfect deserve mercy (because actually, none of us are truly good). So we turn around and we walk back to the man that none of us want to see and what we try to give him is not money but dignity.  We try to see the value of one person even though we are programmed by society not to see.

I introduce myself and shake his hand and by this stage Elijah has no idea what I’m doing – I’m sure he thinks his mum has finally lost it.  I ask the man what he needs and I’m ready. I’m waiting for him to say money.  Apparently, so is the businessman who has been sitting nearby watching.

“You’re doing the wrong thing” he calls to me “If you give him money, he’ll just drink it”.

I ignore the onlooker and ask the man again how I can help and he looks up at us from his spot on the ground and says; “I’d really like a pie”.  Not a beer (or any other type of alcohol), not cigarettes or a couple of bucks “to get me back on my feet” – he wants a pie, food… and my heart wants to break.

So we leave him there and he continues to beg while we walk across the road to the pie shop and as we cross a small voice asks me; “Mum, why are we doing this? Why can’t someone else help?”  The answer rings loudly in my heart.

We are doing it because in life we are the “someone else”.

People end up begging in gutters for so many reasons that I cannot even begin to understand, but one of the reasons that they stay there must be because we live in a society that has trained us from childhood that it’s someone else’s problem.  We are conditioned to believe that people in need are somehow also people at fault – that they have made mistakes and deserve the consequences of those mistakes.  We see beggars on the street and feel that they are trying to take advantage of us.  And maybe they are, most likely they have made poor choices but does that absolve us from the need to show grace?  Does that mean that we cannot in some small way alleviate their suffering?  And if we can bring some small comfort, shouldn’t we?

That day, for the price of a pie, I remembered that I may not be able to do everything to save the world, but that I can do something.  That day, for the price of a pie, I remembered the words of Dr Suess in Horton Hears a Who… “A person’s a person, no matter how small” and they are lessons I hope I will not quickly forget.

I want to hear from you! What do you believe is our personal responsibility (if any) when it comes to helping the poor?    Have you had a teachable moment that has changed the way you see a group of people or a social issue?


9 thoughts on “The price of a pie – “A person’s a person, no matter how small”

  1. jimmyprime

    Is about the will to do it. We are interdependent on one another hence we must make it our habits in helping others to survive. Thanks for your message.

  2. Mark Young

    The thing that stood out to me was how you spoke to the bloke. If I had been in your position, and had done anything, it would only to give the guy a few dollars and wish him the best.
    But I liked that you stopped, introduced yourself and asked what you can do to help.
    It took a look more courage to do that than to just toss a few dollars at the bloke. It’s an inspiring story.
    Just out of curiosity though, what sort of pie did you get for him? 😉

    1. siobhanhewson Post author

      Mark… I’ve seen you do far more than that in our youth group days – you’re selling yourself short! I didn’t remember what pie it was but I just asked Elijah and he said it was mushroom with no hesitation, it made such a big impact on him.

    1. siobhanhewson Post author

      I’ve walked by many times too Linden. I’m determined to work on seeing the people around me now and setting aside my preconceptions about what brought them to wherever they are. Thank you for your words – very humbling.

  3. Rebekah King

    Loved your approach to the situation Shiv! I had a similar experience with my son a couple of weeks ago in town. We walked past a younger man who was dirty and dishevelled and begging, “Got any change, love?” Initally I just put my head down , said “No, sorry” and kept walking. Then my conscience whispered, ‘What if this young man was your son? Would you want him to be ignored?
    So I stopped and gave my son, Lachlan $5 to walk back and give the man. Even at eleven Lach said, “Mum, he’ll just buy alcohol or cigarettes.” The man thanked Lach and talked to him about the cricket. Lach was surprised that the man was interested in sport and I knew then that Lach recognised a common interest and started to see him as person. Then on the way home we broached the bigger topics of disadvantaged childhoods, mental illness, homelessness and the concept that we’re all more alike than different.
    We’ll never know what that young man spent the money on and we’ll never know his story. I wish now that I’d asked. I’m not sure if giving money is the best thing to do….but I do hope that he felt like we cared.

    1. siobhanhewson Post author

      That’s beautiful Beck! I remember Deryk saying once that it isn’t our responsibility what people do with the gifts we give, it’s our responsibility just to give – such great wisdom. I love how that $5 you gave opened the door to such significant conversations with Lachlan. I know Elijah hasn’t forgotten the experience we had and I’m sure Lachlan won’t either. What amazing men they will grow up to be. Xox

  4. Bec @ Wholly Listening

    Siobhan, this is my favourite of your blog posts so far! I love that you paid attention to that catch in your throat and acted. Your sons are privileged to watch your example of grace.

    I’ve had a similar experience, except that the first time I ignored the tugging on my heart. When I got back in the car I knew in the pit of my stomach that I had just refused to give Jesus something to eat. These days if I come across someone who is struggling in this way I try to remember to stop and say hello orif I can get them anything to eat. I’ve decided it’s not my job to judge, or to feel guilty about not being able to change the whole; it’s my job to offer love where I can.

    1. siobhanhewson Post author

      Such a great lesson isn’t it Bec? It’s so easy to look at the enormity of need around us and feel helpless. We may not individually be able to change the world but we can make a difference to one person – and collectively, that has to count. I think you are so right, it shouldn’t be about guilt or judgement, it should be about showing love where we can (especially to people who are given so little love).
      Thanks for your thoughts Bec.


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