About three years ago I was at my cousin's bar mitzvah. During the ceremony his parents got up to speak about what is was like raising him. They told a story of when he was maybe 11 or 12 years old and the family was on vacation. The parents had given the boy some money for souvenirs. He decided, however, to use some of his souvenir money to buy lunch for a homeless man. As I heard this story I was overwhelmed with emotions. What an amazing boy -- and amazing parents -- to use money for himself on a total stranger. You don't find too many tween boys who would do that. I was filled with hope that my kids would one day show such selflessness and compassion.
Fast forward to today I currently live in an area where there are a decent number of homeless people around. We see them as we walk to the subway. We see some beggars downtown asking for money. We also encounter a lot of people begging as we drive. Several people stand at intersections with signs saying things like "No job and two kids. Trying to take care of my children." Or we see "Displaced due to domestic violence. Please help." Or even "Have no home. Sleeping on the street. Anything helps."
My kids have obviously noticed this and we have talked about it over the last year or two. Now that my boys can read they have started asking more specific questions about the signs and the people. It's hard to explain to children an issue that our most educated folks in America cannot solve, but every time we talk about it I feel like I explain the issue as best I can to a child and each boy will process it on whatever level he can at that moment.
My boys started to tell me that we should give the beggars money. I have given money once or twice before and my mother-in-law recently gave someone some money too. I think that triggered something in my kids. They encourage me to give money every time we see someone now. One young girl had a sign saying that she had no home and that particularly interested Jeff. A couple days ago we were stopped at a light and saw her again just as it started to rain. I had some change and I asked Jeff if he wanted to give her some money. I rolled down his window and he gave the woman some coins. Jeff, in his typical Jeff style, needed to talk out everything that was in his head. He told the young lady that he saw her sign and it said she had no home and he told her that maybe this money could help get her a home. She was so grateful.
There is something so touching about the innocence and optimism of a child. As an adult in his 40s I have become more jaded and more individualistic. Seeing how Jeff connected with this woman, talked with her, hoped for the best for her and how touched she was talking to him for just those 30 seconds showed me the power in charity and compassion. I'm not saying I'll change overnight, but I hope I'll be more willing to give a dollar to a person in need. I already bought a newspaper that a homeless man was selling. I'm not saying that should garner me any applause, I'm just saying it's a start. Right?