[Readers, you've got to take in the following story that I found on The Pioneer Woman blog. Sometimes the issues we face as we make a serious attempt to improve the quality of life in our city can get fairly complicated. The work is hard. Hope can be lost. The story of this little girl brings me back to reality, back to basics. Read it. It will be more than worth your time, I promise! Larry]
Having never been to a large city in all of her almost-eight years, my younger daughter spent her four days in Chicago positively fixated on the homeless people on the sidewalks. Since I went to school in Los Angeles and street bums were such a regular sight for me for so long, I doubt I ever would have thought twice about them had my little pixie-haired daughter not stopped dead in her tracks every time we passed one on our walks around the city.
"Mommy, can I pleeeeeeeease borrow a dollar?"
This became her standard question. And the first time she asked it, I almost gave my standard answer: No, they'll just use it to buy drugs. It's the answer that was drilled into me during my time in L.A., the answer I hadn't spent much time second guessing until my daughter stood before me in Chicago with her plaintive plea.
For some reason, I just couldn't say it. There was something about the purity of her compassion that sent a dagger of guilt plunging into my gut. And she was unwavering in her desire to help the poor souls. She might have been casually strolling down Michigan Avenue, swinging her new American Girl doll and whistling happily, but as soon as she saw one of the downtrodden sitting on the street, her demeanor would totally change.
So I started "loaning" her a dollar at a time, every time it came up. The first time, on our way to Starbucks the first morning of our stay, the emaciated, bearded homeless man accepted her dollar with a weak smile. And my daughter simply stood there in a trance. I had to take her hand and say, "Come on," to get her to leave, and as we walked away I noticed a single tear rolling down her sweet little cheek. This made me well up with tears, too, but I swallowed hard and focused on the Venti Half-Caf Cappuccino that awaited me. It's important to stay on task.
Later, we passed by another homeless guy who had parked himself outside Water Tower Place. His plumber's crack was shocking and way past the point of no return, but to his credit, he'd strategically parked it against the cold marble of the building's exterior---a good thing, as I don't like cracks very much and I might not have let my little girl approach him had it been overwhelmingly visible.
In any event, when my girl put the dollar in the man's coffee mug, he smiled and began singing praises to the heavens. "Oh, God is so good...Thank ya, Jesus...Thank ya, Lawd..." Then, fixing his eyes on my daughter's face, "Thank ya, angel...Thank ya, angel." And as we walked away, more quiet tears rolled down her cheeks.
This all affected me on a very deep level. Suddenly I remembered every single time I'd walked by the bums in L.A. and hadn't even looked in their direction, probably yapping with my friends, probably reapplying my Estee Lauder All Day Cinema Pink lipstick for the hundredth time that day. I'd felt compassion for them once upon a time, right after I'd arrived at college, but my new friends had quickly warned me not to give those bums a red cent: They'd Just Use it to Buy Drugs, or They Didn't Really Need It, or You Might Get Hurt. And indeed, when one of my college friends once gave a homeless man all the change in her pocket, he'd violently thrown it back, telling her "Keep your chump change, bitch." Or so went the story.
Seeing the homeless men lying on the sidewalk in Chicago on their soiled quilts and holding their chipped and stained coffee mugs, and seeing them through the eyes of my little girl punk, a wash of newfound compassion came over me. I saw them not as drug addicts---though many of them surely were---but as fellow humans, as someone's child, brother, uncle. And as I handed my daughter dollar after dollar---dollars that meant very, very little in the grand scheme of our four-day trip to Downtown Chicago---I gave little thought at all to how they'd eventually be used.
Because who cares? If some of them wound up using their dollar to procure a fix, maybe it numbed their pain a little bit that day. If they used it to buy a hot dog, maybe it gave them a moment of much-needed satiation. If they used it to wipe their nose, I feel really silly right about now. But whatever it was used for, I have to think the sight of a sweet, skinny seven-year-old girl gently handing them a crumpled dollar must have injected a much-needed dose of humanity and warmth into their needy souls.
I know it did mine.