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Heavier Than I Know it is

I pick up a boy hitchhiking. Or more to the point, he picks up me, approaching my truck as I idle at the blinking yellow light that brings a semblance of order to the main intersection of the small town we frequent. “I need a ride to East Hardwick,” he says, and because I am going right through East Hardwick, and because even if I weren’t I’d probably give him a ride anyway, just to better understand the nature of a boy who approaches a man in a truck to ask for a ride.

He climbs into the cab and settles in. We wait our turn at the blinking light, then accelerate through the intersection. He tells me he’s 19, though surely it can’t be true; he looks younger than my 14-year-old son. He tells me he spent the night outside, and this I believe, because he smells badly, and his bare arms are covered in dirt. He asks if I have a couple dollars, and although of course I do, I reflexively tell him I do not; there is something in the request that feels inauthentic to me, though in hindsight I’m pressed to say why. He tells me his name is Kenneth, and ask for money again. He complements my 15-year-old truck, asks what kind of motor is has, says it’s smooth. He calls me “sir” and between requests for money, thanks me for the ride. I drop him in the parking lot of the mechanic I’m visiting to pay for recent repairs to our car, and he stands in the open door of the truck, not backing away, asking for money yet again. But I don’t give him any. Maybe I should, but I don’t.

I pay my bill, and drive home, detouring past the long-neglected private campground that is reemerging under new ownership as an adults-only, clothing optional venue. This is big news in our little town of 200 (give or take a few), and predictably, the venture has become the butt (see what I did there?) of innumerable jokes. I drive slowly, and look carefully, but there’s no one around, naked or otherwise. I don’t think they’re open yet, anyway, and even if they were, it’s still black fly season. You’d have to be plumb crazy to let it all hang out right now.

I wish I’d given Kenneth some money, even though I’m still not convinced he really needed it. But I can feel it in my pocket, even now, that small wad of crumpled bills. It feels heavier than I know it is.

20 thoughts on “Heavier Than I Know it is”

  1. Yes, one of Liz’e former students struggled with “panhandlers” in NYC and finally decided that she would give everyone of them a buck for 30 days. At the end of the month she realized she was not broke and that in the act of giving money she could engage some small part of a common humanity, a exchange of brief glances, a smile, a word or two or sometimes more. Thanks for sharing your struggles with Kenneth.

  2. Nice one Ben, I was once given permission to hunt at one of those types of establishments nearby. I didn’t go, never could figure out where to put my shells.

  3. As for Kenneth, I think you did the right thing by listening to your gut, your inner voice. Now you second guess yourself and to what end? Will you resolve to do it differently next time? Kenneth. I’d laid odds he’s a runaway. I wish we could hear more about him.

  4. It was nice of you to give “Kenneth” a ride, but I can’t see any reason for you to feel guilty about not giving him money. He asked for a ride, which you provided. He asked for money, which IMO is both an inappropriate and unreasonable request from a total stranger. Unless you’re his parent or legal guardian, you’re not responsible for the maintenance of other people’s children.

    That said, humanity and empathy for others are not among my strengths.

  5. I agree, that’s an inappropriate request from a stranger already doing you a favor, but I’ve had one more direct:
    I passed a disabled vehicle one time on a twisty, hilly road. Over the next hill was a young woman walking, so I pulled over to pick her up, thinking she was the driver and being worried about her being hit on a blind curve. She quickly proved me wrong, by not knowing anything about any car on the side of the road, but asked me if I had any stuff. I played dumb but she got more specific, asking for a drug by some uncommon slang. Nah, sorry. She wanted out immediately, and I bet I didn’t carry her a mile, even though she needed to go miles more.

  6. I rarely gave money to the people who were asking in NYC. But then my wife told me she gives when she can, it isn’t fit her to judge. If someone asks, give. Now I do the same and it is just about always feels like a good thing.

    1. I don’t care what other people do, but there is, IMO, a fine line between helping people and enabling people. When you give money to a stranger, how do you know if you’re helping that person or enabling that person? Wouldn’t that money be better spent by donating it to a charity that feeds and shelters the needy? Doing that would insure a positive outcome, while giving to a person on the street can go either way.

  7. Thanks for sharing, Ben. A ride and a listening ear for those few minutes with Kenneth provided him with something he needed right then. That is a gift, but I can see how the money in your pocket could feel like a burden afterward. Know this: you are a man whose kindness was evident to a vulnerable young person who felt safe to ask you for a ride.

  8. You did the right thing. If Kenneth needs further help he can locate a church and they can assist him or hopefully send him to the right people.

  9. I know your Kenneth, except his name is Jake. He started asking for rides and money at 14.
    We patiently wait for your words, how many of us read and never comment. It’s comforting to see the regulars here that do though. We read because you leave us with a moment of finding our own hope.
    I wish Jake could read your words,he is still out there asking, he’s 48. I’ll be thinking about your Kenneth for awhile now.

  10. My daughter and I were headed out last Saturday evening just past twilight and we see a figure up ahead – it looks like a kid in shorts and no shirt and we stop to see what we can do – it is a very short young man, disheveled, a little incoherent asking for a ride – we can’t give him one but we offer to call someone, an uber – but he says no, no and waves us away. No shoes on with the side of the road full of stickers and sharp pine cones and the road hot and lined with sharp gravel. We prayed for him – for safety and for provision. And maybe we will start carrying extra flip flops or something in the car. We do what we can. If ever we feel like we weren’t as generous as we could have been, we plan to be more prepared with the next encounter.

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