The Homeless Man and My Daughter
The other day we were driving home from Ikea and we stopped at a red light beside a homeless man. He stood on the median right beside our car with a scrap of cardboard that said something like “Hungry. Anything helps.”
I knew I didn’t have anything; we had just left Ikea where I’d actually put my daughter’s hot dog and juice on debit because I had no change. Hot dogs are what – $0.50? I was so embarrassed that I bought two just to make my order more substantial.
So now we were at the red light and I knew I didn’t have any money on me. But I started looking around anyway because a) then it at least looks like I’m caring, and b) I like to set a good example for my kids. Appearance-wise, at least.
I’m not sure how I feel about giving money to people on the street in general – I prefer to donate to a food bank. But I find it really hard to explain to my young children that I automatically assume someone is a drunk or a drug addict because they live on the street. Honestly, it seems reasonable until you try explaining it to a seven year old.
No, I’ve decided that it’s far better for the girls to actually see us giving money to people in need, so I always try to find a dollar or two that we can share.
Except last Friday, on the way home from Ikea. When I had nothing but a nickel at the bottom of our cup holders, floating in a suspicious sticky, coffee-scented goo. Sorry, man. Not picking that out for you.
So I gave up on looking and I stared straight ahead, grateful that I had stopped just past the man and his sign. No eye contact. No mumbled excuses on my part.
Then I heard the back seat window go down.
“Hi.” That was my seven year old.
“Hi.” That was the man. “How are you?”
“How was school today?”
“I’m homeschooled. But it was fun.”
Right. Cause we went to Ikea instead of reading history.
“Yeah! School is fun!” the man responded enthusiastically.
At this point I rolled down my window too. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t have anything to give you.”
He came forward to my window and pointed to the back seat. “No!” he said, stammering a bit. “No, you’ve … you’ve got three … I don’t take money from the mouths … from the mouths of babes.”
The light turned green. He turned back to my seven year old. “Thank you for saying hi to me.”
As we drove off, I realized how stupid I was. When I saw the man on the side of the road, I had just seen an opportunity to teach my kids virtues like sharing, giving, charity, etc. But my daughter saw a person.
I didn’t see a person, I saw a teachable moment. Don’t get me wrong – I think that it’s great to teach our kids about all those lovely things, but I’d rather teach my kids that everyone is a person, worthy and deserving of love and respect and maybe a quick “hi” at a red light. There was a teachable moment there. For me.
As we turned on to our street a few minutes later, my daughter said, “I’m going to pray for that man.”
Ok, I said I learned my lesson. Way to rub it in, kid.