My husband’s best friend from high school, Siobhan, arrives for a weekend visit. Reed hasn’t seen her for 20-plus years. We’re all a bit nervous at first, but she’s an instant hit with the kids. Raised Catholic, she’s the sixth of seven children herself, and is curious about our faith. I’m hoping we’ll make a good Mormon impression.
We go to Temple Square on Saturday. As we approach the Main Street plaza gates there are, as usual, several scruffy panhandlers. Reed ponies up some change (our usual practice) and one of the kids hands it to a man who has two stumps for legs. I’m secretly pleased that Siobhan is here to see this little exchange. Points for the family, points for Mormons in general. Maybe she’ll convert.
It’s a gorgeous day, with about a dozen brides on the temple grounds in full puffy-white splendor. Under command from the kids, we stop by the seagull monument and I dig out some change to toss into the fountain. Once my pennies are gone, I shut my wallet. “I’m keeping my quarters!” I announce.
Siobhan laughs. But hey, having cash in my wallet is a rare occasion.
Walking toward a spot for lunch, we pass more panhandlers. One man holds a sign that reads Out of work. Reed hands him a few coins.
“How do we know he’s really out of work?” my ten-year-old whispers to me.
“We don’t. We’re taking his word for it,” I whisper back. It’s harder to give to people who look healthy and capable. But I remind myself that when facing a beggar, it’s not the beggar’s heart on trial, but my own.
Our preschooler has a major potty accident in the visitor’s center. I don’t have any spare clothes. After swabbing him down with wads of soapy paper towels and depositing his pants and underpants in the garbage can, I zip him into my sweat jacket (which hangs to his knees) and strap him in the stroller. Siobhan walks next to me on our way back to the car, congratulating me on my ingenuity.
As we exit Temple Square we face another panhandler. A woman, this time. She looks about my age. “Ladies, please,” she says, quietly. “Anything.”
I’m tired and poopy-smelling. Reed and the other kids are almost a block ahead of us. The stroller holds forty-one pounds of hefty passenger to push. Without thinking, words pop out of my mouth: “We’ve already given to several others. We’re cleaned out. Sorry.” And I flip the stroller east, away from her blank, grey eyes.
After walking almost a block I acknowledge the images and thoughts that are pumping through my mind:
She’s no different from me. There are at least six quarters in my purse. Siobhan knows I lied.
I don’t turn around.
On Sunday, Reed, Siobhan and I play hooky from Gospel Doctrine and find a small empty classroom, where we sit and talk about the gospel. At one point Siobhan brings up the panhandlers at Temple Square.
“I’m impressed that you gave them money,” she says. “I never give to anyone.”
And I wonder if I ever really do, either.