Thursday, January 12, 2012

Why indeed?

When I was walking out of our local Whole Foods parking lot yesterday I saw a homeless man approach a father and his two daughters, aged about 3/4 and 6/7. The father shook his head, albeit with measured compassion and an awkward smile, and walked away. I hadn't planned on giving the homeless person (the same one I see at least 3-5x per week and give money to maybe every third time) anything that day, but I felt compelled to after seeing the sad look the older daughter gave him. He smiled, blessed me and wished me well on the sunny afternoon. I caught up with the father and his daughters a bit further down the block and overheard the following exchange, more or less:

Older daughter: ...but why?
Father: I don't know why exactly but I think he probably was asking for money because he needs it.
Older daughter: So why didn't you give him anything?
Father: Well, it is hard to give to one person because there are a lot of people asking for money and we can't give to everyone.
Older daughter: What if we did give to everyone?
Father: Then we wouldn't have enough for us.
Younger daughter: I could give him this (holding up her chocolate milk).
Father: (laughter).

They then crossed the street and I didn't catch the rest of the day's important lesson. Being privy to this conversation initially made me so excited for Mr. Monk to start talking and asking serious questions. Then it dawned on me that I'll be the one who supposedly has the answers. I'll be expected to know what to say and how to make sense of all the sadness and evil and confusion in this world. How do I do that when I can't even begin to understand it myself? I felt more like the daughter in this conversation than the father. But why can't we just give to everyone and make do with less? How is it possible that I went into the store, bought 5 types of organic produce and chemical-free diapers and spent over $40 while this man is asking for any change I can spare? I don't know how to reconcile my guilt over getting what I want while many folks are barely getting what they need.

As I walked home, I thought of how important it is to me to instill in my child a true sense of gratitude, perspective and luck. I'm thinking as he gets older we should institute a buy one, give one program of our own for his toys. And little does he know all the years of volunteering his mama has planned for him.

I hope all of you are feeling some gratitude this weekend. If nothing else, the days getting longer is reason enough to celebrate, though I suppose it means winter is really coming even if it was 70 degrees in SF today.


  1. I think about this all the time. One day we will be the ones answering the questions instead of asking them.
    I completely agree with you. Instilling gratitude in our children is so important!

  2. She wanted to give him her chocolate milk? Children are the best.

  3. Aww. Don't worry, you'll make it up as you go along. Like all the other parents.

  4. You took some of the words right out of my mouth. This is something that has been on my heart and mind lately. My son is almost three and has been asking questions about infomercials he sees on tv regarding orphaned children. He always asks why they are crying and why they don't have a momma. It breaks my heart to try to gently explain to him.

  5. I'm so glad to know I'm not alone! As long as he's willing to give up his chocolate milk in a few years, I must be doing something right.

    Your son sounds so sweet, Ashley!