My daughters are almost five (twins). Living in San Francisco, they see homeless people all the time. They both have asked if being really old means you then become a homeless person. When I told them their grandparents weren’t homeless, they said that’s because they aren’t really old.
I told them a story the other night. I am a children’s story teller by the way. The story was about a troll who does good deeds and had decided one day to really give himself to others. As he went into a town, he asked if there was anyone who needed help. People told him to seek the Baker. As he found the Baker, he found he had no one to help him make bread. The troll helped him make the bread and was paid in bread. The next day the troll returned to help the baker again; however, this time an old beggar came into the bakery and was chased out. When the troll asked the Baker why, the baker explained that his uncleanness would turn customers away. The troll decided to take his day’s payment of bread to the old beggar. The beggar was very thankful and explained that he used to be a farmer, but a drought destroyed his crop. With no crop he could not pay the lease on his land and lost it. He farmed other people’s land, but the money was never enough to save. Finally, he got too old to work and had to scavenge for his food. The troll asked why the people of the town didn’t help him. The old man explained that all the people who lived in the town where children of those who had known him. They’d only known him as a poor tenant farmer. Now, they don’t care to listen to him. The troll took the old man’s welfare upon himself and took him back into the woods to care for him.
After I told this story, my children began to tell me a story about the time my wife had given some money to a man who had a broken leg. They both began to weep for him as he had no crutches and no home. My 4 year old children had witnessed this event when they were younger. With this story they were able to articulate their feelings. It really left an impression on me. My young children wept for a wounded homeless man.
My daughter asked me, “Will you ever be homeless Dad?” I told her I didn’t intend to be. She said she didn’t want to be either. I told her I would work to make sure she never was. She was clearly scared. Normally, my goal for my young children is to shelter them so they can have a strong foundation to deal with the hard parts of life as they come. Living in San Francisco, that’s hard to do. I was really blown away by their response. Ultimately, it’s compassion. I’m glad to see it in my children. I feel it, too. However, I reason myself away from it. I say, giving money only supports the bad habit. I’m ready to shed that reasoning now.
Interesting how I’ve gone from many different levels of thinking as I’ve investigated homeless for myself (abstractly speaking). I was first compassionate. Then, as I began to pick myself up and achieve, I expected others to do the same. Homeless people included. Then I realized I was succeeding because of my environment which influenced my thinking. Then I thought about the homeless person’s environment by the underpass. Well, I figured, they just have to change their environment. I have to say, that expectation is way way off base. It takes incredible strength to change your environment. If you are in an environment that you feel you can’t escape from, how can you? The mental fortitude isn’t there. From this view, I am now back at compassion, especially with the perspective of my daughters. Compassion and respect.