Today, Hamish and I went about our day he suddenly exclaimed ” Mom you were shocked when (*his friend) said if you feed the man by the bin he will just come back. Why?”
Now, I was taken completely off guard by this question …..
Mostly because it happened more than a month ago, one increadibly insignificant morning when I handed some breakfast Hamish wasn’t going to eat to a man rummaging in a nearby bin on dustbin day.
His friend had said if I gave food to “them”, that they would keep coming back for more, and me, knowing that 4 year olds only express conversations like that after hearing it first, explained as best I could how we should help people where we can.
I most likely would never have thought of it again if Hamish had not mentioned it.
Secondly I was taken aback because my 4 year old correctly read my emotions, he could express not only his own feelings but mine too and mostly my suprise in his question came from him exploring this topic more and questioning why my reaction to the statement was so strong.
Now, there could have been a hundred ways to answer him today, or I could have brushed off his questions but I chose to try explain my initial reaction to him.
First I asked him how he knew I had been shocked by his friends statement. He answered, because mommy you looked sad and stopped talking.
And he was not wrong. I was sad….
I was sad that there are many people who believe that those who live on the streets choose to do so. That the homeless are a vicious vermin we need to brush under the carpet.
That in a world of hurt and pain, of pandemics and hardship… we as a society have lost our empathy for those who do not look like us, act like us or live to our standard of living.
I was hurt than this man, who for all we know, may have been searching for food for his family or looking for items to recycle to earn a little cash was automatically declared a burden, not worthy of respect or consideration.
I was hurt that a child had uttered the thoughts of so many adults….
Now, I’m no fool, I understand that there are some people who live on the streets who are there by choice. Who have no intention to try change their situation and honestly if given a home, etc would self destruct and be back where they started.
But there are also a large majority of people on the street there because they have no where and no one else. This is their reality.
But each person, is still worthy of the same respect and dignity that we offer our neighbours.
Because of who we are as people.
Showing empathy and offering help, even if it’s just a warm cup of coffee, a smile or a word of hope …that says more about who we are than about the person we are or are not willing to help.
I continued to try and explain to Hamish that not everyone on the streets is a “bad” guy, some people have just had a hard life. I explained that we can help and share if we have extra food we don’t need.
As his mom, I want to teach him kindness. I want him to understand empathy and I want him to know that by helping someone he is not doing anything wrong.
I want him to go to bed at night proud of his life, gentle in his soul and loving in his heart.
To do this, it’s not enough for us to only help the people we like and know …sometimes we need to reach a little further and help someone who really needs it.
He then asked if there were kids on the street and I pulled out some old photos of one of the soup kitchens I was privileged to assist in.
We sat together as I told him the stories of some of the people.
How the one young boy could play music like he had been training for years yet had never had a lesson, about the little boy who wanted to be a soccer star and about the time his dad and I took some of the boys through the company gardens as a treat.
I showed him the ladies who shared their hearts and stories and I remembered the increadibly smart engineer who had been on the street for 15 years and spent his days in the library, learning.
And lastly, he looked up at me and said, “mommy is it OK if we feed the bin man and the lady with her baby by the robots all the time” ….
My answer was honest ….I said if we see them and we have food yes.
I’m aware that my sentiments are not shared by everyone and that I can not feed or change the lives of the whole world but if I give one person hope, make one person full and teach my child the true empathy …..
Then every sandwich, bowl of soup and cup of coffee was worth it.