Kelly Gerlach

Kelly Gerlach

Do you give?

Do you ignore a perceived need?

Do you question?

Do you lend a hand?

Do you trust?

The world as we know it continues to change every minute of every day. And often, we must adapt ourselves to it.

Note the word “adapt,” not change.

We must walk a fine line between changing ourselves, our beliefs, our very character, and merely recognizing that sometimes we must adapt our truths to meet the changes going on around us.

As I get a little older and gain a little more perspective on life, I find myself perplexed. I try to fight the cynicism that battles with my basic belief in the good of humanity.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I sat parked in a truck at a Davenport gas station, savoring a snack of pumpkin bars and a water after enjoying dinner and a movie. The windows were down to let in the cool evening breeze as we munched on our dessert.

Then a woman and young boy approached the driver’s side window.

It raised my hackles — you know, that little sense of fear mixed with the unknown paired with the wish that you could roll up the windows really fast and peel out of the parking lot before the strangers approached.

The woman appeared to be in her 30s or 40s, the young boy maybe 8. They wore standard clothing — shorts, zippered jacket, T-shirts. 

What did they want?

The woman began talking, apologizing for interrupting our evening. She said the police had kicked her and her three children, ages 5 to 13, out of the house they had been renting. There was a problem with the landlord, not them, she insisted, at about the same time her 8-year-old “son” climbed up on the truck’s running board, clutching the open window frame with his little hands, still not able to see over the window opening.

The woman claimed she and her children had run out of vouchers to stay in the motel behind us. They’d contacted local churches and aid organizations for help, but no one would help them until Monday, she said. They could no longer stay at the $40-a-night hotel without asking total strangers for money. She already had $19, she told us. 

We said nothing.

“You can ask at the hotel over there. They know our story,” the woman told us.

Now that’s a good idea. Let’s verify her story, I thought.

Neither my friend nor I wanted to just hand over the cash we’d worked hard for all week. My friend later admitted he’d been skeptical of her story until she’d recommended confirming it with hotel staff.

The woman paused for breath. 

“Sure, I’ll go over and pay for a night’s stay,” my friend told the woman. 

We drove across the street to the hotel and waited for the woman and her son. We couldn’t see them in the dark. There were few lights along the way.

“Before she comes, let’s go inside and ask the clerk if her story’s true,” I recommended.

So we did.

We walked in the front door of the hotel, and the clerk asked if she could help us.

“We need more information,” my friend told her.

“No. The answer is no, no, no,” she replied before we could say any more. “You’re the third couple to come in here in the last hour asking about that woman. No.

The “homeless” woman had used her sob story on a lot of people, the clerk said, and she had been banned from the premises. 

We just looked at each other, dumbfounded, then breathed a sigh of relief, smiled, thanked the clerk for her help, and walked back to the truck.

But the brief interlude sent the wheels in my head spinning, and I was quiet for a while as we navigated some rural Davenport backroads.

Our immediate instincts had demanded that we help this woman in need. We didn’t have a lot of money, but she appeared to need it more than we did. This woman, although a stranger, begged for our help, and we had the ability to do it. How could we say no?

But she’d played on our sensitivities. 

And we almost let her.

My thoughts swirled. How could I tell if someone else was trying to bilk me out of money? Take advantage of me? Deceive me? 

I don’t want to be the cynic who never lends a hand because I assume someone is out to screw me over. I know inherently that being a cynic is not me.

This situation made me seriously question not only my decisions but my instincts. I want to help people. If there is someone in need, and I can assist, I will try. That homeless person on the street corner with a sign? Yes, I want to give that person money. How can I be sure that person doesn’t need my help? But now I have a little voice asking, “How do you know that person doesn’t have more money than you and earns it by scamming innocent bleeding hearts like you?”

The point I’m trying to make, I think, is that I need to believe that inherent good prevails in this world. That other members of the human race keep vigilant eyes on those truly less fortunate. That people who truly need help can get the help they need from others who are more knowledgeable or have the means. 

That I don’t bow to the crushing weight of negativity that threatens to prevail, but instead, spread the light of positivity and optimism that I think this world desperately needs.

I think the world needs to adapt its cynicism to kindness.