Stepping outside of one's comfort zone and experiencing a part of reality that seems so removed from mine is becoming increasingly interesting to me. Often when I see people holding signs on any given corner, it almost seems surreal. If I have the time and the extra money readily available, I fork over a buck or five. On days, however, when I'm in a hurry or only have my debit card, it's a different story. For some reason I have it ingrained in my subconscious that if I avoid eye contact and pretend to be busy, it will make it better when I don't give. I always feel bad when I do it, but somehow, I feel like it's easier on the person I'm not helping. Like, they are somehow thinking, "Well, she probably just didn't see me, so THAT'S probably why she didn't give me a buck." Further, I have this perspective on money that if it's not made of paper, it's probably of no value to another person. Neither of these two broken mindsets are things I would have admitted to prior to now, but I have been blessed with opportunity after opportunity to correct these things.
First, I watched an great documentary called the Human Experience, a portion of which was about 2 brothers who decided to become homeless for several days in New York during a particularly cold winter. From that, there were a couple of things that stood out: 1) that asking for hand outs, be it food or money, is demoralising and humiliating. 2) as a society, we collectively pretend that people in need don't really exist. 3) people, for the most part, simply want to be treated with common decency. This is not to say that there are not individuals and organizations out there working hard to help those in need, but what I AM saying is that WE as a society, collectively ignore personal need for whatever the reason, of which there are many I'm sure.
The second thing that occurred, which if you have read one of my previous blogs you know, was that I became involved with something called Scarlet Revolution. It is an organization that is in its fledgling stages with an idealistic and yet mature heart to make a difference in the homeless community in the City of Fresno. In becoming involved with Scarlet Revolution, I was in a position to go out into the homeless encampments and hand out food and supplies, witness their need in 4D, see their living arrangements and speak with them, human being to human being. An experience such as this will correct one's perspective on many things relative to themselves and others.
Finally, and probably not finally at all, I was given the opportunity to panhandle. Admittedly, it was something that I had been considering since watching the Human Experience. I knew it would be humbling. I knew that people, in the belief that I was homeless, would ignore me. I knew that there would be some that would pity me. I knew these things, so I went in thinking that it would not be that surprising. And just when I thought I knew it all there was yet again a facet of this complicated gem of life that I hadn't considered. Parenthood.
Being a mother of 4, from ages 8 months to 9.5 years old, I am fully aware of my role in sculpting, channeling and directing my children's lives. I understand that it is my actions that speak volumes to them regarding how adults SHOULD behave. I am not perfect, nor near perfect by any means as a mother or a wife, but there was something HUGE that I missed. Illustrating compassion in the midst of life. This was something that I was not aware of until Tuesday, June 21, 2011. As I was standing there at the shopping center exit across from a nationally branded ATM and down the way from a regionally branded grocery store, I saw car after car after car pass me with occupants that wouldn't even look in my direction. If they had, they would see that I, myself, was not homeless and that my sign said we were raising money to help the homeless in Fresno. Further, since we were in an affluent part of town, one might hope that people with more means might be more generous, but again, that was not so. It was the individuals in the more moderately priced vehicles that tended to pass me a buck, or five, or ten. Lastly, one might assume that women with children might be more generous since they might be more selfless, as we kind of assume all mothers are, but again, no... the only vehicle that handed me money that was occupied by children was being driven by the father. Now, I think the only reason this shook me was not because of the other people's actions, but because of how often I myself had driven by people with signs and employed the whole, "Hey, what's that over there...", don't make eye contact thing that most of us do. The thing that I had never noticed, because I was too busy pretending that there wasn't someone asking for help, was whether or not my children looked at that person, acknowledged that they were there, waved or smiled at them and then watched me ignore them.
What I truly realized is that I, myself, was teaching my children that they don't have to acknowledge individuals in need. That they don't have to treat other human beings with common decency and that it is ok to pretend that those same people are invisible. Wow! Let me say that again, "That they don't have to treat other human beings with common decency and that it is ok to pretend that those same people are invisible."
I realized that it didn't matter how many times my compassion was expressed in a non-personal form, where I was entirely removed from the situation by giving money to help an orphanage or a devastating earthquake, or buying presents for a "needy" family at Christmas time, what I regularly instilled in them that when there are people asking for help right in front of you, not only do you NOT have to help them when you have the means, it's best just to pretend that they are not there. Children, again, for the most part, are happy to acknowledge others. They wave, smile and look people in the eyes. Every child that drove by read my sign and smiled, some even waved. Every mother wouldn't even look in my direction. I would assume that eventually those children will pick up on the cues given by their parents and adjust their behavior, instead of the reverse.
My life lesson for the afternoon?
Train up a child in the way that they should go and when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6
He who has a generous eye will be blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor. Proverbs 22:9.
Here is a photo of my panhandling efforts... Be warned, I'm red, sweaty and generally unattractive. If you have a Facebook... befriend Scarlet Revolution! And at least smile at the next person you see asking for spare change and if you do have only change, fork it over, it can make a difference!