Many thanks to one of my fellow bloggers, who informed me that October 15, 2008 is "Blog Action Day" with a focus on awareness of poverty. (http://blogactionday.org/) Technically I'm writing this on October 14, but because I'll be rushing to pack bags for our trip to Maine twenty-four hours from now, I'm not sure if I'll be a-bloggin' tomorrow evening.
I ultimately decided to keep paper bags of little water bottles and peanut butter crackers in my car because when I see someone asking for a handout, I like to have something to give them. I think a number of people struggle with what the "right" answer is when faced with someone asking for a handout. As with many quandaries in life, the only way I was able to find my personal "right" answer was to first define what the "wrong" answers were for me. And, as with so many other philosophical issues, motherhood was the prism that served to clarify what my own personal "rights" and "wrongs" were.
-When I pretended not to see the people with their cardboard box signs on the side of the road, that was clearly "wrong" for me - especially with my children in the car. How on Earth could I reconcile my behavior with what I tried to teach them at home (everyone is valuable and has worth) and what they learned at church (God loves everyoneand we are supposed to help other people)? (That is, when we went to church...see yesterday's blog for more info...)
-When I handed out money, that also felt wrong. For one thing, I understand about addictive behavior and I really don't want to be a part of facilitating that behavior. (Of course, who's to say there even IS addictive behavior at issue here? Way to show your prejudices, Jenn...) Also - what does that teach my kids? That they just have to ask in the right way and I'll hand over money?
But just because I wasn't comfortable handing out money to people on the street, I knew that did not absolve me of my responsibility to my fellow citizens. I had to figure out what I COULD do for them. Thus was born the Jenn-sack-o-snacks. Lest you think I'm full of myself here, let me strongly state that I am doing this for purely selfish reasons. I feel much better about myself as a human when I reach out to others. This is also a great activity for my kids because they help me put the sacks together and if they're in the car with me when we see someone, they are participants in the process.
The best part about the whole thing is that I get to meet some really great fellow travelers. I'm going to close this posting with the story of one of them. A few weeks ago, I noticed an extremely scraggly-looking gentleman with an only slightly less scraggly-looking dog. A few things about this guy really stood out. For one thing, he had a HUGE smile on his face and his sign said "Homeless But Not Hopeless." In addition, his dog looked at him with complete and utter devotion. As a matter of fact, it was his dog that first noticed me as I held out my sack-o-snacks and got his owner's attention. (It really says something when a dog is so protective and loving towards its owner, IMHO.)
When Mr. Not Hopeless came over to accept the sack, he reached out and touched my arm, leaned in close and asked: "Say, did you hear about that cat that swallowed a bag of yarn?" I was somewhat taken aback by the fact that he physically reached out to me and even more surprised that it didn't bother me at all. I told him I hadn't heard of the cat (those of you who know me well will not be at all surprised to hear I actually believed that perhaps this was some news story I'd missed...sad but true...) and he then gave me the punchline: "She sure did. But don't worry - she just had mittens!"
What a great guy. He not only gave me a big laugh and a smile, but he also gave me a great joke to share with the kids when I got home. So, wherever you are Mr. Not Hopeless - thank you for a huge smile and for reminding me about what really matters.