Monday, November 13, 2006


Here in the Land of Joy our downtown area thrives during business hours but becomes a ghost town at night and on weekends.

The Church of 17-Minute Episcoplaianism is downtown so in we went Sunday morning .

When we stopped at a red light
a man limped by in broken down shoes. He was wrapped in a sheet stamped all over with the name of a local hospital.

He stopped at the garbage can on the corner, reached in, pushed things around, found something, scooped it up in his palm and eagerly ate.

In all honesty, I didn't even realize I was watching the man until The Mayor said,

"Mommy and Daddy, why is the man eating out of the garbage?"

There was a heavy silence in the car.

Both K and I scrambled around our minds looking for the meaningful response. Where was it? What was it?

I finally said, "I'm not sure Mayor. Maybe he's hungry and he doesn't have anywhere to go."

"Where can he go, Mommy?" he asked.

"Well, I guess he can go to a shelter."

"Where is a shelfter, Mommy?"

"I'm not sure where the nearest one is, Mayor."

Spotting several
construction cranes, The Mayor moved on to a new conversation topic but I haven't been able to stop thinking about the homeless man.

What did The Mayor learn from what he saw?

Did he learn that there are people forced to eat garbage because they are hungry and have no place to go?

Did he learn that his parents can witness a man eating garbage and casually drive on?

I live in a wealthy country where people eat out of garbage cans.

I've learned to live with it.

My son's question made me feel implicated.

I have become inured to what I see on the streets of my town.

Jarred by The Mayor, I am reminded (again) of the starfish story.

The man on the corner was just one person.

One person that I could have helped, but didn't.

I regret that I didn't roll down the window and offer to get the man breakfast.

I imagine The Mayor would have learned something far more valuable from that experience than he did from our 17 minutes at church.

It's ironic really, on a morning when we were driving around trying to find faith we passed a real opportunity to serve God... and missed it completely.


Sarah said...

it's very frustrating to realize an opportunity has been missed. i frequently have the opportunity to give stuff to panhandlers, but I just can't decide if that's another category.

Irene said...

I've felt the same many times. but I believe that the fact that you think and write about it here will teach The Mayor an even greater lesson.

Mamma said...

I agree with Irene. We have to just hope that the lessons we teach our children even out over time. It is infuriating that we have been lowered to the level of watching others suffer and feeling like we can't do anything about it. Can you say Darfur?

Iris/Rissy said...

A profound and thought provoking post. It is sad that the world has changed in such a way that we are so immune to suffering, pain, hatred, etc that we do not even flinch when we see it. Or that we have become so cynical that we cannot even see it anymore.

carmachu said...

Here's the thing:

Yes you missed an opportunity to serve god. Sadly, it happens to everyone, even great folks such as yourself.


No, you kid dint learn all those crazy things you have in your head. Kids at that age, have questions. And just want the answers. He asked why, you answered. For the mayor, his questions were easily answered. Its just your own about yourself that remain.

wendy boucher said...

Don't fret about a missed opportunity. Take your little guy with you to deliver some groceries to a shelter so that he can see the relief that is available to the homeless for himself.

Domestic Goddess said...

I think some times we look for the "big" things and miss all the small everyday things that we can do.
Thanks for the story and the reminder.

Trish said...

I am so moved by your post. I feel this way too at times. As if I miss opportunities to set an example and in turn embarrassed and guilty that I didn't act as I think my child would expect me to.
Thank you for reminding me about how important this is.

Moobs said...

Any attempt that I have made in the past directly to assist a homeless person has ended badly.

I suppose I had assumed that they would be kindly old gentlemen who had fallen on hard times having stumbled broken hearted from their riverside cottage when widowed.

A number of them turned out to be in the grip of mental illness with an alcohol-induced tendency to violence.

None of this means they do not need help - it just means they need it from someone less stupid and less naive than me.

I now give money to organisations like Shelter.

Mrs. Chicken said...

I felt this one - we had an eerily similar experience Sunday, and the man was a self-advertised veteran. I felt implicated and also very sorrowful.

This is a question that has no good answer.

Kevin Charnas said...

Great post, Jessica...

I believe that we have real opportunities of every minute of every day. I believe that it's in how we speak and how we think and behave towards others. Towards ALL others.

Lisa Goldstein/Kelly Kelly said...

That is very moving. I have had those moments too.

Maybe some day when they are older you can take them to a soup kitchen to help or something like that.


wordgirl said...

I'm just as guilty as you are. Maybe worse.

jen said...

you can always go back. or find the next starfish. or take the Mayor to a shelter and show him what's what. But i know you know all of this already, because you are exactly that kind of wonderful mum. the fact that he noticed, and asked, and you discussed it, means volumes.

The Medium Swede said...

OK, let me lighten things up a bit for you Joy. Your story reminded me of when my parents were moving from an apartment to a condo. My father was a WWII Vet who looked like Santa Claus sans the beard. He was looking around the back of a shopping mall one day looking for boxes when a worker from one of the stores happened upon him. The worker said, "What are you doing?" Kindly smart-ass Santa Claus looking father said, " I'm looking for something to eat!" The kind hearted worker said, "No, no not there, come in, I will get you something!" Smart-ass now embarassed father had to explain to the generous and thoughtful person that he was looking for boxes and only making a joke. The Medium Swede said, "Bwahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah!"

Momish said...

Children are often the catalyst for seeing many things in a new light. Perhaps someday soon, you will not pass up an opportunity such as this. And, when you seize it, you can credit the Mayor for your actions. Let him know, his innocent kindness inspired you. We always worry about the lessons we are teaching our children. I know I do. But, I think we often forget to let them know the lessons they are teaching us as well.

Fran said...

This reminds me of the time my friend and her daughter were stroller-ing in downtown Seattle and came across a homeless man who was vomiting in a doorway. My friend swung her stroller around, but not before her 3 year old got a good picture of what was happening. The little one said "MOMMY! I think that man needs a washcloth!" that is what she needs when she feels so sick. My friend was wringing her hands about how to explain all of this to her daughter when I mentioned that maybe her daughter was explaining it to her. I think age-appropriate honesty is the best policy. The Mayor will grow up to be outraged, as you are about many things. That's the only way things will shift and change. But it's a hard one. And so full of irony as you say.


Shannon said...

Fantastic post. These are the things that haunt me. The winter after Maryn was born, we were in St. Augustine wandering around the historic district. A mentally ill woman was quite taken with the baby and kind of followed us talking to us for awhile. She was not dressed for the weather and asked us if we knew of somewhere she could stay as she was cold (and it WAS cold). I was so preoccupied with her proximity to Maryn that what she'd said didn't register until she had moved on and was lost in the crowd. I've regretted not giving her my jacked, which I could so easily have done, ever since.

mothergoosemouse said...

You've got some great opportunities coming up, what with the holidays and all, to show the Mayor how some people live and what we can do to help them.

And by telling this story here, you've reminded lots of us - myself included - to take advantage of those opportunities to instruct our children in how they can positively affect the ways of the world.

urban-urchin said...

I would venture to guess that this won't be the only homeless person you'll run into. There are always teachable moments.

mad muthas said...

oh it's a tricky one, alright. was in london with twins having breakfast near an all-night club/bar/dance place. outside, across the street was a boy - probably 16, 17? - in a bad way. t-shirt, no jacket, shivering, looking like he was having a bad drug experience. there were - in my pathetic defense - loads of people around, waiting for taxis outside the club. i only had a very girly jacket, or i could have covered him up. i ummed and aahed for a bit. we went to have breakfast. when we got out he'd gone. he might only have been 4/5 years older than my two. life is so scary sometimes.
your answers to the mayor showed respect, compassion and acceptance of people's differences. just think what some people might have replied to their children. another time you'll be able to help in a direct way, but your attitude is passed on too. plus - you can't help everyone.

Christina_the_wench said...

Holidays are coming up. Most shelters look for volunteers as it is their busy time of the year. (Sad that there even has to be a shelter at all) I am taking my daughters to help out at St. Leo's on their Christmas break. Maybe you could do something like that with the Mayor?

The Sour Kraut said...

This post gave me chills.

I believe, as parents, our first instinct is to protect our children at all costs. Many homeless victims are also mentally ill and, therefore, are unpredictable in their actions. I agree with all the other comments above. Take time to teach the lesson but perhaps a shelter or soup kitchen is a safer, more predictable environment.

Your kids are very lucky to have parents like you who realize that doing a truly Christian act like helping people in need is equally important to, if not more so than, sitting in church.

Sayre said...

Tricky... The Mayor is a bit young yet, but I think the soup kitchen/shelter idea is a great one for when he's about 4.

Something you can do is explain to him that there are children who need things like clothes and toys that he might take for granted. Every year, since my son was three, we've gone shopping for toys and clothes for needy children at Christmas. We set an amount and he gets to see what things cost and how hard it is to choose when you only have so much. It is a valuable lesson and now that he's 7, he appreciates the gesture even more.

Slackermommy said...

Wow, I'm so moved by your words. I agree with all these comments. It's so hard to know how to handle these life lessons. When my older girls were younger they would ask me what a poor person looked like. They had a hard time understanding what being poor means. We live in an affluent area and our kids attend a private school. I worried that they would not appreciate how fortunate they are and how important it is to give especially when you have it to give. My hubby and I have always given to charities but we weren't making our children aware of it so now we do. We adopt a needy family every each year and shop for them throughout the year. I take turns bringing the older ones with me to drop off their items and each Christmas we anonymously drop off presents for a needy family so they can learn the satisfaction of giving to just give. Every year my girl scout troops collect baby items for a local organization called Nurses For Newborns. We wrap the items and take them in for a pretend baby shower. The girls then put the donated items on the shelves where the nurses shop for families. They love when a nurse comes in and they can help her pick out items her family may need. I've also taken my older girls to help build a house for Habitat for Humanity. I feel so strongly about the important lessons that can be taught to our children through charity. I hope it will give them compassion and understanding that will last through their lifetime and hopefully they'll pass it onto their own children.

Slackermommy said...

I also want to add that you're a great mommy. I've been reading your blog long enough to know how socially concious you are. You are teaching your children beautiful lessons by just being you.

Deb said...

That is sadly beautiful. So sad that the man was eating from a garbage can, yet so beautiful that you saw an opportunity to do God's work, even if you didn't, made my little heart smile!

Tabba said...

Because of Jen, I've taken notice of this plight. And it's also a unit we're covering in a class I'm taking. We're brought up to be individualistic. And that sucks. But the fact is that there are people out there like Jen who can inspire 'us' to take notice and extend ourselves.
We do miss opportunities. But good on you for 'noticing' it has been missed. And I bet you will take that next step.
I can feel for you and all the emotions thoughts that you are grappling with. I've been feeling them weighing on me as well.

Stephanie A. said...

I had a similar experience when I worked with an au pair. I had picked the kids up from school and they were eating their afternoon snack of fruit and cookies while a man was sitting on the street with a sign that read "I'm hungry," on it. I hadn't even noticed him, but without even asking me they immediately walked up to the guy and gave him their fruit and cookies.

Obviously you are doing something right because your son obviously sees that everyone should have the basic right to food. Don't be hard on yourself, this is just the first step in a direction of him learning more.

Thailand Gal said...

Excellent post... and I agree with Tabba in general so will ride on her comment. It is a great opportunity for you to be able to talk to your children about why other people matter ~ and what can happen when we become concerned only with ourselves. As Tabba said so well, individualism has a dark side. You can take him to all the shelters in the world and it won't matter without that fundamental message. :)


Thailand Gal

mad muthas said...

when the twins were a primary school, they used to do this thing every year before christmas where they would fill a shoebox with gifts for a child in a war zone. all you had to do ws specify if it was for a boy or girl and what age, pay a little bit of money for postage and get going. chocolate, juggling balls, pencils, notebooks, gloves, dolls, tooth brushes and paste ... it all went in. and they had so little that anything you sent would make a difference. the only things they asked you NOT to include were anything with batteries ... and any war toys - soldiers, guns or model aircraft. sobering, eh?