The sultry wind whipping through the open bus windows, carried with it the scent of diesel, fresh baked bread, and delicacies reminiscent of carnival treats; I stirred as if under its influence. But it was notice of the homeless man that caused me to squirm on my seat. I glanced at my daughter. She wore an expression semi-alarm, then whispered above the din, “Did you see that man?”
This man bothered us even though we’d seen beggars sprinkled throughout the city. Some, I’d easily dismissed: the woman with the two well-fed dogs and her cardboard sign, the man who’d carefully unloaded branches from his bike to make a lean-to in front of a restaurant, the man reeking of whiskey and cheap wine, the men snoring loudly on the shaded park bench. I’d stuffed down my concern for these social misfits by reasoning away their need. If their need wasn’t valid, then I had no responsibility to them.
As my daughter expressed her concern, my brain sought an explanation for the beggar’s behavior, and I pulled from a testimonial I had read about a homeless man who would put fresh, bagged food in the trash to eat later-when he felt he had the best chances of garnering pity from sympathetic bystanders. With this thought, I tamped down my concern for the man on the sidewalk, and then I turned to let the balmy wind blow away the remnants of my discomfort. My daughter, however, kept the issue alive long after the bus had carried us away from the disturbing sight. Her grief for the man was palatable.
“That man needs help,” she insisted.
“Yes. There are a lot of homeless people in this city.” I tried to neutralize, if not normalize, the situation.
“I sure wish there was a way I could help him.” Her voice was strained, perplexed, caring. Then as if speaking to herself, she muttered, “I don’t have any money.” Her shoulders slumped forward.
I nodded understandingly, then dismissed her concern with a shrug and some well-oiled platitude about doing for one would require doing for all—or some other such nonsense meant to sooth her angst while easing me back into my comfort zone of apathy.
My daughter’s compassion, however, could not be quickly silenced, and it swelled into a consuming need to alleviate the homeless man’s pain. A crease deepened between eyebrows that arched over her troubled eyes. She stared unseeingly out the bus window as we rode past beautiful landscape, interesting shops, and a tangle of humanity. Suddenly, her forehead smoothed and her eyes lit.
“I know!” she shouted above the groan of the bus engine. “I’ll give him this food I was saving for later. It has to be better than garbage.” The doggie bag carried leftovers and a slice of cheesecake she’d planned to savor after we got back to the hotel, but as is true of real compassion, self got lost in the desire to ease someone else’s ache.
The opening created in her heart in that moment created a portal for outflow. Long after we had returned home from vacation, our daughter pondered ways to help the hurting. Her ideas regarding food for the homeless were shot down by restaurant laws, but that didn’t block the flow of compassion. It found new ways of expression. Compassion caused her to stand up to a bully who was harassing another student. It provoked her to challenge a youth being rude to an elderly couple. It motivated her to befriend a youth whose hygiene and poor behavior kept others at a distance. It prompted her to write sticky notes of encouragement and put them on junior high lockers after an 8th grader had committed suicide. Her compassion moves her to help, and it challenges my excuses with the truth that I can give more.
Tip/Tidbit: Examine your heart today. Are you making excuses for not helping others? Challenge your self-preservation by helping someone else today.