At the intersection, (this was yesterday afternoon) beneath the stop sign sat a slim, nondescript, middle-aged man with a hand-scrawled sign that said Homeless and Hungry. Someone in the vehicle ahead of us lowered a window enough to hand the man what was probably no more than a pittance. I didn’t even do that. I could use the excuse that it’s a dangerous intersection (and it is), that I was focusing on the road and simply did not see him. But I did and I did my best to ignore him.
Very shortly thereafter we heard our daughter crying in the backseat. She had read the man’s sign and was instantly moved to tears by his plight. To her this was a man without food, without a soft bed, without a Mommy and a Daddy. This was a plight for which (thank God) she had no point of reference. To her this was a man who simply was hungry, homeless and needed help.
To me he was a potential predator, someone who might hurt my family if given the chance, a malodorous possibly mentally ill threat. Or, even worse, someone who was not really homeless but simply a lazy beggar. I know that I am jaded by experience and often err on the side of being too cautious, too self-contained.
She wanted to know if he could stay at our house, he could have her bed and she would sleep in her sleeping bag on the floor. The part that brought me to tears was that she hoped he was not allergic to dogs as we have two and she did not want them to bother him when he stayed with us. She was far more worried that this stranger be well taken care of than anything else.
I, of course, was horribly ashamed and, in my own defense, she has seen me help the destitute. But this day I was knowingly negligent.
I told her that we didn’t really know him and while we would stop and help him on the way home he could not stay in our house, in the back yard maybe, but not in the house. We had to crack the door a little more and let her get another glimpse of just how harsh the world can be, a slow gradual loss of innocence that breaks my heart. In all honesty, I am glad he was not still there on our return trip.
My wife and I talked about this at length. This was not the first time our little girl had been moved to tears by someone else’s plight. On Great and Holy Friday she did the same when she realized Christ was being placed in His tomb (we also should have been overcome by our emotions). We reminded her of His certain resurrection and her joy was then as complete as her grief.
She is seven years old, I am almost forty-seven. She has a kind heart and overflows with love. I am too often uncaring and stingy. In her innocence she is wise, in my wisdom I am blind.