On Sunday we drove into Manhattan to meet my dad and stepmom for dinner. We were a bit early and our little one fell asleep in the car, so after finding a parking spot we sat in the car and waited for her to wake up or for it to get later, whichever happened first.
Sitting on the corner near our car was a homeless man.Like a cliché, with his blanket and cardboard sign, I didn’t notice him. he looked a lot like this guy:
I grew up in and around NYC. It would be fair to say, for the most part, that the homeless are invisible to me. I know that sounds cruel, but much like the fire hydrants and bus stops, unless I am looking for one, I tend not to notice.
Molly, my 5 year old noticed though.
“Mommy, what is he doing?” she asked.
When my kids ask a question, I tend to tell them the truth.
“He doesn’t have any money sweetie. He doesn’t have a home to live in or a job to make money, so he’s sitting there.”
I looked at her as her eyes grew wide. I asked her how that made her feel. She said sad. Then she asked for my phone to play Subway Surfers.
I promptly put the homeless guy out of my mind.
10 minutes later we were getting out of the car and she gave me my phone and pulled me close. She whispered in my ear “Mommy, can we give him some money?”
Oh. Um, ok. I felt a little swell of pride at her thoughtfulness. I guess while her fingers were busy surfing subways her mind was busy processing the concept of homelessness.
I pulled out a quarter from my pocket and handed it to her. Molly, despite being a powerhouse of passion, is really shy. She’s the hide-behind-my-leg kinda shy and the whisper-her-name-into-her-shoulder-when-meeting-a-new-person kinda shy.
We walked together to the man and she reached out and dropped the quarter into his cup. He looked her straight in the face and said “Thank you.” She looked right back at him and replied, clear, confident and sincerely, “You’re welcome.” and then I ushered her away with all the logic of a mom whose 5 year old daughter just gave a homeless man a quarter on a NYC street corner.
I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I don’t know what it was that hit me in the gut. The way he said Thank you and the way she looked at him, with humanity and kindness. In part, I was almost jealous of that full-heartedness. I told Elie, proud of how thoughtful she was, and he pointed out that that’s also why kids are trusting and, unless taught not to, will somewhere with a stranger. True.
I began thinking back to my own childhood and interactions with homeless people. I remember, in the 80’s, driving by tent villages that popped up on empty lots that probably house million dollar apartments today. I remember because I was fascinated by their architecture- walls made of shopping carts and tee-pees built from blankets and poles, stuff like that.
And I remember the time a young guy came up to my dad and asked for $20 to take a bus back home to wherever the heck he was from. He promised my dad when he got there he’d put $20 in the mail and repay him. My dad turned to me and asked if I thought he should give it to him. I was about 9, and I said yes. My dad gave him his address (who is the brilliant one in this scenario) + $20 and sent him on his way. He then asked me if I thought he’d get his money back and I said yes. He said he didn’t think so, and his distrust made me mad.
About a month later he asked me if I remembered the guy and if I thought he had gotten the $20 in the mail. In my head I was like “Told ya so!” and said yes. He told me no. He told me he was probably never going to get the money back and I remember thinking “Maybe he will! Ya never know!” but he told me people who ask for money on the street generally are also gonna be liars.
I guess the fact that almost 30 years later I still remember this means it impacted me on a deep level. Yet 30 years later I’m still not quite sure what there is to be learned from the story, other than that I am really gullible, and while I don’t want to crush my own daughters spirit and belief in the goodness of people, well, yeah. You know.
Just a few weeks ago I was in Port Authority and a guy walked up to me and said he needed a dollar for the bus to get home. I looked at his face and then looked away, shaking my head no and walking faster towards my gate. As he walked behind me I heard him mutter under his breath “racist” which kinda hurt my feelings, since I didn’t even notice the color of his skin. In fact, the only reason I didn’t give him a dollar is ‘cuz I recognized him as the same guy I gave a dollar to a month earlier to catch his bus home. :-/
Do you give money to homeless people? Would you have let your kid do that? Would love to hear your thoughts. 🙂
did i ever tell you about the time i brought home a homeless man for shabbos? my kids will never forget it. many important lessons learned that weekend, and when he came back to borrow money for the bus a year later and when i got the envelope a few weeks later with the money (!!!), and when he came back a few months later for more and i didn’t answer the door…sometimes, you go with your gut and heart. sometimes you go with a “well, whatever, can’t hurt”, and sometimes you go with your gut and mind. nothing wrong with being gullible sometimes, cynical other times, trusting sometimes and leery other times. we’re human.
Yes. I give to the homeless. A lot. You name it and I’ve probably given it. Yes, even the coat off my back. There area a lot of homeless in my area.
You see, to me people are people and I love them all. Yes, there are an abundance of individuals that are on drugs and alcohol and that is why they are where they are. And then again that isn’t the case at all for some of them. But I don’t believe in jugging that kind of thing. I will still bring them food and blankets. I have been in some pretty unsafe places before in my efforts to love, nurture and feed. There is only love.
As far as my son goes, yes absolutely I would allow him to give to the homeless. And he does. I haven’t sugar coated life for him. He is very aware of the situations of others. I started him out as a baby showing him how to serve those in need. It’s the same way I was brought up.
Now, I know lots of people would argue that I’m supporting the lifestyle of these individuals. Or perhaps they would even say that I haven’t been around the harshest conditions so I’m making it seem simple. My answer to that would be this; there are plenty of homeless people that have jobs but can’t make it through. There are plenty that are drugged out and battling their own demons. I personally have dug toddlers out of trash piles to feed them. I’ve traveled the world. I think I’ve seen more than my fair share of homeless people. In the end, people are simply people.
Rhonda- that is so beautiful. I don’t know how one can dig a child out of a trash pile and feed them. My heart would simply break. I don’t judge those who are there because of their own demons- I feel for them. I guess part of me would want to do more, but it’s hard to know who is safe, and I’ve spent so long ignoring them that this kinda just sparked something in me. I’m heading into the city tomorrow. Maybe I’ll bring some granola bars to give to the homeless people I see.
I think what you did was a great life lesson! Life is not always handed to you, its not always easy…who knows why that guy was homeless. Drug or alchol addiction…lost his job in this horrible economy, mental illness like alzheimers, maybe he has no family to turn too.. Whatever the case… Judgements aside you let her be kind. If you hadnt she may have worried about it all night. Here in milwaukee we dont have many homeless but we traveled to san fransisco and saw tons who were making a serious living on begging. I personally dont give anything. If i saw one in milwaukee id consider it. Cause its uncommon here so something must have really gone wrong. Idk. I hate when ppl beg for bus money tho. They look like they are not homeless…they knew when they left the house theyd need money…so that annoys me. 🙂
Totally agree with you about the bus. I once found myself at the bus station with no money. I’d left my wallet at work and couldn’t go back because the office was locked. I was frantically worried about what I would do, though I figured if I HAD to, I’d go to the NYPD office at the bus station and ask what to do. My bus is under $5… Thankfully I ran into a friend on the way who lent me a bus ticket. lol.
Okay – love the story, love the lesson and especially love the phrase “Powerhouse of Passion”!
She is…. Im assuming when she is older and can manage all that passion productively, it’ll be a real gift 🙂 .
Oh Tova! I love this story.
Not having grown up in a city, I’ve never gotten to the place of being able to “not see.” It’s part of why I’ve had to leave the cities that I’ve lived in – it breaks my heart to see so much hopelessness. And to feel hopeless myself in the face of it. Because no matter what I’m able to do – and what I do or don’t choose to give in any moment – it’s never going to be enough.
I really like what they do in Boston – homeless people put together a newspaper called Spare Change. Then they sell them for a dollar per copy on the street. The people who sell them are obviously homeless. But there is a dignity in being able to provide SOMETHING in exchange for the dollar rather than begging. They are journalists, salespeople, entrepreneurs. They are building skills and showing initiative – again, all things that build dignity. Which in turn builds a sense of pride and hopefulness.
Is it a solution? Of course not. But when I’m in Boston, I will always purchase a copy of Spare Change from the first vendor I see. The hard part, though, is passing the second vendor selling the same product….
I love your little ball of Powerhouse of Passion. I look at her and see a girl who might just be able to change the world. <3
She is a powerhouse. The amount of empathy that girl has is really amazing. Another story this week that blew my mind….