“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.” – Mother Teresa
Recently my kids and I have had a couple of encounters with apparently homeless people that along with the proliferation of tents in the parks that came with COVID have my almost 6-year-old daughter asking a lot of questions. In one encounter, a man with a belt still tying off his arm for shooting up was hollering and trying to take off his pants and another man was threatening him with a baseball bat to emphasize that he should keep his pants on. In another, a man was crawling down the busy street near where we live with a look of sheer agony on his face and one arm outstretched.
I often am confused about how to talk with my daughter about these matters. She may only be going in to first grade but she talks like she is a 9-year-old, is very observant and asks a lot of good questions. To top it off, the homeless problem is so apparent and pervasive that I certainly don’t have any great ideas about how we are going to fix it. But we came up with an idea that she could draw something and we could make some care packages for people that we see.
Yesterday she wrote this note without any help from me:
We nowe you are homeless but we care. Sorry you are homles.
Do not smoc. Do not take drugs becus they make you feel bedder for a few minets but wen it goes a way it makes you feel wurs.My daughter – age 5.9 years
She then started taping on extra pieces of paper so that she could continue. In addition to being fascinated about what content she’s taken in from our many discussions, I noticed how hard it is to stay in empathy before moving to advice or judgment.
The other day my friend, Doug, asked if I could remember the name of a guy we used to work with. He said something like, “You know, the guy who’s wife left him, house burned down and his dog died?” “Oh my goodness,” that’s terrible I thought and still had no idea who he was talking about. But it wasn’t long before the thought crossed my mind that this poor man really must have pissed off God.
So I know first-hand how hard it is to stay in empathy. I start moving to judgment or advice because it feels like having an explanation of why bad things happen makes me feel safer that they won’t happen to me. Understanding that tendency has helped me practice a better kind of compassion, one that tries not to presume to know the journey another person has walked but is willing to help. It haven’t gotten any less confused about how to talk about these huge problems with my kids but I think it has helped me to have more open-ended conversations with them where we can recognize the humanity of others and be curious about how we can help.
In that spirit, my daughter and I settled on just drawing hearts that say “we care” on the back. I don’t think they will solve homelessness but I do hope that they bring a moment of being seen.