This week on my way to drop of the kids before work I noticed two crumpled up dollars on the passenger seat. I honestly had no idea where they came from. They could have fallen out of my purse or perhaps out of one of the kids’ backpacks. The primary point was that those two dollars were rather inconsequential to me.
We pulled up to our stop and there was a homeless man on the corner close to where I parked. He had one of those cardboard signs asking for help and looked dirty and tired.
I remembered those crumpled up dollars I found in the car. I know all the common arguments about just handing out money to “those people” but it occurred to me that those arguments are all judgments and who am I to judge. If he uses it to buy a pack of cigarettes – that is not my concern. My only concern should be that I have excess, he has none.
Because here is the crux of it – while I can point to some decisions in my life I made that contributed to my own success – most of it can be attributed to pure dumb luck. I was lucky enough to be born to stable parents who had good jobs and valued education and creativity. I was born out of privilege. We weren’t wealthy but I had a wealth of opportunities to choose from. Now, my children have stable parents who both hold multiple graduate degrees and professional jobs. Again, despite not having the attributes of the wealthy in this culture, we are still a family of privilege. Ignoring this fact or pretending that much of it was not happenstance is a mistake we make too often.
So, I handed those crumpled dollars to my oldest daughter and told her to go give them to the man while I was helping her little sister out of the car. She stood there and stared at him and honestly said, “Mom he kind of scares me.” No problem, I told her I would do it. At this point, the 5 year old pleaded to have those dollars. She wanted to take them over “By myself!” We hear that phrase a lot lately.
So, my little 5 year old approached the man with those crumpled dollar bills. He became visibly emotional and grabbed my daughter in an embrace. She quickly looked back at me to be sure this was okay. I gave her thumbs up and she smiled and hugged him back. She then turned and skipped back over to me and said “Mom, he called me an angel.”
And it occurred to me that as much as I may talk with my children about their own privilege and the reasons we should help others I can’t actually teach that lesson. That lesson must be experienced through actions and practice. The practice of walking through the world, not judging, and giving liberally if you have it to give.
That homeless man taught one of the most important lessons I want my kids to learn. Even my older daughter was moved by his raw emotional response to those two dollars. So inconsequential to us but so appreciated by him. And he taught me to again see my own privilege, my own dumb luck. I need to be more vigilant about my giving practice as I move through this world. This month I am full of gratitude that I can give.