The problem with fairy tales is wanting them to be true.
A friend of mine lent me the first season of a TV show this past week. Since Thursday, I have watched at least four episodes at a time. It's safe to say I'm hooked. But who wouldn't be? The hero is incredibly attractive, his life is full of interesting and not-too-scary challenges that he manages to resolve within 45 minutes, and he gets closer and closer to winning the affections of the incredibly attractive heroine with every episode that passes (innovative storyline). What's the problem with that?
Unfortunately everything. Real-life challenges aren't resolved in 45 minutes. They're far more complex than that. Even so, I try incredibly hard on a regular basis to be the hero. Superwoman, if you will, to save the day from the evil chaos that reigns at work, the low income in my [old] neighborhood & city, and the existential "who am I and what am I going to do with my life?" angst among my friends. But I'm not Superwoman, despite my best efforts to prove otherwise. Sure, I might be able to help at work if I focus and work really hard. And I could lobby for a raise in the minimum wage and affordable, quality housing for single moms (both points of contention, I know). I could tutor at the local elementary school - "children are the future!" - or join the latest protest. There are a lot of things I could do (and perhaps ought to) to make this world a little better place. But I can't fix everything. I'm not Superwoman.
I got duped today by a man at the gas station. He approached me as I was filling up the tank of my Flexcar (fantastic car-sharing company, by the way) and asked 1) if I would trade him dollars for bag of change he had in his hand and 2) if I had a 5-gallon gas tank with me. I asked how much change he had ("about $3"), told him I didn't have a tank, and then gave him the $3. He handed me the bag of change and took off soliciting other vehicles stopped at the red light of a busy intersection.
Not until I got home did I look inside the bag of change to realize what I was suspecting. The "about $3" looked like two large handfuls of pennies that smelled like stale beer and couldn't have added up to more than $1. I never counted.
What do I do about "those" people? How do I respond in a way that's loving, dignified, and compassionate without just getting duped every time? Is is right or okay to say 'no' to people who ask? I'm not the richest person in the world by far, but I certainly am wealthy; what right do I have to turn people down who obviously need a hand? Looking the other way, ignoring the requests for help, change, or a bite to eat, or crossing to the other side of the street only serves me. But is giving away my bus fare - assuaging my guilt for not responding earlier in the day or being incapable of really helping - to every person who asks the right thing to do, either?
I'm not Superwoman, but I often wish I was.