About a week ago, we were pulling out of a parking lot at the local grocery store and observed an exchange that left my mind racing in a million directions. The parking lot occasionally has individuals with solicitation signs, requesting assistance. There’s a large shade tree near the exit, with a small patch of grass and curb underneath it. Sometimes individuals take rest here for several hours a day. That particular day, there was a man and woman sitting. I’ve seen them before and have offered a donation on occasion. They look to be in their 40s or 50s, although it’s difficult to tell as their skin appears quite weathered from the elements. Often the woman is wearing what looks to be a yellow reflective fireman’s jacket, but that day it was quite hot, so she wasn’t wearing her trademark clothing. They sat huddled close despite the heat, with a cardboard sign on the ground in front of them that read, “Please help us.”
I can remember as young as 4 or 5, seeing adults standing on corners, requesting assistance. I felt sad and confused. I remember having difficulty understanding as a child, how “grown-ups” could be without shelter or food. Grown-ups can get jobs and drive cars. Though my parents did their best to explain, I still remember feeling it was unfair that some people had homes and food and others didn’t. Looking at them through the eyes of a child, I couldn’t see what made them any different than my own parents. I wondered if they had children like me at home they needed to care for. Yes, these are pretty heavy thoughts for a young child. Even at that early age, I was quite sensitive and an overthinker, characteristics I never outgrew. But what I saw a week ago, brought back those old memories and so many other thoughts. It’s a day I know I will never forget.
As we waited for a few cars to pass so we could turn to exit, I observed a young boy off to the side on his bicycle. Being a Mom of three, I’d estimate his age to be between seven and eight years old. Both his bike and his clothes appeared to be quite worn, perhaps hand-me-downs from an older sibling. He was holding a small plastic bag filled with his purchases in his right hand and was digging in his pocket with his left. It was then that I breathed in deeply, placing my hand over my heart, as I sensed what was about to take place. I saw his little hand pull out several dollars from his pocket and begin to slowly pedal his bike over to the man and woman sitting with their sign. He stopped and extended his hand full of dollars toward the woman and as he did so, a rush of emotions swept over me. I looked in anticipation at this beautiful gesture and found myself immediately wondering, will she take those few dollars, perhaps the only money this young boy has left from his purchase? Will she politely decline this action, with the shake of her head and a warm smile? I watched intently as the woman said a few inaudible words, hoping they reflected gratitude and took the money from the child. Though the cars had passed, we sat for a few moments in silence as we watched the boy pedal away on his little bike and the woman put the money away. I wondered what words were exchanged. I fought judgments that presented like, “How could she take money from a child? Aren’t the adults supposed to be taking care of the children?” Being a passionate advocate for children, I knew these judgments were mostly instinctual coming from a place of protecting the innocent. So, I invoked a practice for myself when judgments and words like “should,” come into my consciousness. I challenged my perspective. This can be a slippery slope if one is not mindful, as it can lead to overthinking! And overthinking can take us down that rabbit hole to nowhere. So, I challenged my perspective by considering, perhaps the woman was innocent too, maybe she accepted this young boy’s loving offer because she acknowledged the place from which it came from. Maybe she thought it rude denying this innocent child the chance to feel purposeful. Perhaps he feels proud now, more confident, knowing he gave what little he had to help adults in need.
As we drove away, I gently reminded myself, I will never know all the answers. Therefore, I chose to focus on feeling grateful for having observed this touching act of compassion and generosity. There was no hesitation from either one; the young boy gave freely and the woman received freely. It felt better to keep my thoughts centered on appreciation, rather than on the shoulds or the shouldn’ts. Appreciation for being present to see the beauty that exists around me. Grateful for the reminder that children are our greatest teachers; modeling kindness, compassion, and love. And despite all the cynicism, greed and intolerance I see in this world, that brief moment reaffirmed my hope in humanity and restored my faith in our future. Hope and faith are essential values I need to stay aligned with my highest self. It’s true it’s challenging for me at times to keep these values untarnished by the cruelty and ignorance I see every day. So, I take great care to protect these values; being mindful of surrounding myself with thoughts and experiences that support them. I invite you to do the same for your values. You’ll find the world soon reflects exactly what you choose to focus on. I choose hope. I choose love. What will you choose?