The woman asks if I would like the dollar. I say no. "No," she tells me. "Take the dollar. You can have it." I respond: "It's yours; you saw it." "I'm giving it to you...." At this point, I get a little, well, pissy. I make it perfectly clear that I don't want to take the dollar. It is a strange situation after all. I didn't see the dollar. It's not my dollar. But the scene is sadly familiar. It's like this one from 2008:
Starbucks. Me drinking bad coffee and reading my email. A bright and beautiful teen picks up her coffee. School ended early today; she's with her friends, enjoying the freedom. She fumbles her purse, the change, and the drink. 10c falls on the floor at my feet. I turn to see what the noise is. And just catch her... "Please, keep it. I don't need it." I look at her. She has her whole future in front of her; she thinks she's doing me a favour. I realize how I must seem. There's absolutely nothing to say. Where would I even start? I leave the money on the floor, pack up my computer, and leave.Just as that frisson of recognition happens, the woman turns to me with that sainted pious look on her face. "I'll take it," she says, "and I promise to give it to the next person who needs it."
That's the story. I'm in my wheelchair; I must need the dollar. This despite the fact that I am in an airport and am travelling (probably don't need the dollar any more than anyone else who just paid for a plane ticket). Despite the fact that I am carrying a cup of coffee that I just bought (for a dollar). Despite the fact that, in my mind's eye at least, I look as in need as she does (i.e, like any other passenger). Yes, it's the disability thing. I'm needy, because I am disabled.
When my friends come over, the situation shifts -- sharply. I go from being an object of forced charity to being a human being. She chats with my friends about the weather and gestures towards me, inclusively, as she talks. I glower. The atmosphere dissolves.
I am furious still with the predatory nature of charity. So overwhelming, it seems, is the urge to do good that the people who do it cannot see the humanity of those they are trying to help.