After we left the rock show, we saw a homeless man at a stoplight. It was a long light, and he was walking slowly up the line of cars. As he approached, I saw his sign: Homeless. I work hard. Please help. I saw his face: Defeated, hot, tired. I saw his feet: Covered in socks, but no shoes.
I’ve been so broke for so long that I have rarely been able to help the homeless. I donate what I can, when I can, but actually placing cash in the hands of the person who needs it has just not been possible for me. And I’ve never forgotten the people I couldn’t help. I know how quickly everything can go to hell; I’ve spent too many years just a crisis away from desperation myself.
But not this day. This day, I had something to offer, however small.
I rolled down my window and called him over. Pressed into his hand all the money from my pocket, the leftovers from our outing. I can’t honestly tell you how much I gave him – maybe $3, maybe $15. I didn’t stop to count it. But it was more than he had, and he was grateful for it.
I was pleased to note that, after I extended my meager assistance, several other car windows behind me went down, and hands reached out with cash. That’s human nature, I guess. And it’s exactly why I try so hard to set a good example for my kids.
Speaking of which.
As the light turned green and we pulled away, my daughter – my sweet, kind, generous daughter – began to scold me for giving my money away. That was my money, and I was supposed to keep it to buy things with. Not give it to someone I didn’t even know. I tried to explain to her why what I did was a good thing, but she was having none of it.
I tried another approach. I reminded her of the Christmas presents we put together for the local homeless shelter. The toy we donated to Toys for Tots, to be given to a child who otherwise wouldn’t get a Christmas. She felt so good about those gifts. How was this different?
Because it was my money, and I should not be wasting my money on total strangers. She would not be dissuaded from this argument.
I pointed out the shoelessness. How hot he looked, and how much he would love to have a cold drink in the shade. I tried to explain how he had no home, but she couldn’t even begin to imagine having no home. And anyway, how was that our problem?
Ah, to be 4. You are small and the world is small and everything is so simple.
Finally, I tired of arguing and let the subject drop. Later on, her grandparents and father tried to reinforce my message, but she wasn’t budging.
She is not a cruel child, or even an inordinately selfish one. Only 4. But I see I have my work cut out for me.
I will work harder to model generosity. They may not always listen, but they’re always watching.