When riding with Steven to work the other day, he smiled and waved at a gentleman walking by the side of the street. Wearing khaki pants and a green shirt, the guy smiled back as Steven stopped the car and fished out a dollar bill from his pocket and some change from the ashtray in the car to hand over to him. “I know it isn’t much,” Steven explained to me, “But at least he can grab something from McDonalds.” He mentioned that he had often seen this gentleman collecting carts in the Big Lots and Family Dollar parking lots. Even though Steven has an extremely limited income, he can generally come up with a dollar and change for his comrade. His thoughtfulness was impressive.
Our family loves going to Dave’s Bar and Grill on Saturday nights where we feast on popcorn and prime rib. It seems to be a special treat for Marie who ASL signs it, “red meat night”. Coming from such a chaotic and violent birth family, this tradition seems to be extra special for her, especially when she graduated from having to order the inexpensive grilled cheese sandwich to be considered old enough for the prime rib. The waitresses are awesome, and always remember to put cheese on her broccoli even though she forgets to ask for it. While the meal is being prepared and I am scoffing down the bowl of popcorn, Marie gets up to go to the game machines. Using her own money, she loves to snatch up stuffed animals with the crane, which she then distributes to random children around the restaurant, (after asking their caregivers if it is alright.) No one yet has turned down a stuffed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle or a Teddy bear that she has proffered. Pleased with herself, she then sits down to enjoy her red meat with the rest of the adults.
My son, Angel, who has so many financial difficulties of his own, always takes unpaid time off work to volunteer at a camp for children who are blind and visually impaired. His own problems pushed aside, he uses his burly Big Bear demeanor to be gentle and protective of the children, and he insures that the jokes are flying and kiddos have great fun. Because of his volunteering, many children come back to camp year after year so they can forget their own troubles for one week and have one, problem free, hysterically funny, uplifting and ego inspiring week.
My son, Francis, spent much of his teen and young adult years volunteering for a variety of charities. He worked with Habitat for Humanity, rationalizing that even though he couldn’t see to hammer in the nails, he was strong and could carry wood and other objects where they needed to be. It was because of his volunteer efforts that he was awarded the prestigious Bill Gates Award, which paid for his education at Cambridge. The time that he finally came home is etched in my mind. Taking the bus from Logan Airport, I met him in Kennedy Plaza. He was loaded down with suitcases and a heavy backpack as he walked over to hug me, but his limited vision spotted a disheveled man digging through a nearby garbage can. Holding up a finger for me to wait, he walked over to the man and greeted him, then handed him a twenty-dollar bill “to get something to eat.” We then continued with the frivolity of our greeting, neither of us even mentioning the generous act that came so easily to him.
It does not come easy for children to be generous. They are taught to share their toys, but would they ever voluntarily give a toy away to a needy child without being asked? Would they smile at a child in a wheelchair and say “Hello! What’s your name?” Would they offer to carry a bag for an elderly woman who is clearly having trouble walking, and do they regularly hold the door for others? Do they cheer just as loudly for the clumsy child playing soccer as they do for the star of the game? Do they pass out Valentines for all of the children in their class, not just the popular ones? No, children do not inherently think of the needs of others, but they can be inspired to do so from their role models. If parents are afraid of individuals with disabilities, their children will also fear them. If parents are not thoughtful about giving to others, children will follow in their footsteps. If parents are prejudiced about a certain population, their children will follow suit.
This is therefore a respectful request. If parents feel a certain negative way about certain people, please complain to another adult out of the earshot of children. Look for the good in other people. Demonstrate compassion by doing good, even if it is once a year. Putting a quarter in the red Salvation Army kettle at Christmas will have a lasting effect on children, (especially if the parent encourages the child to do so.) If you have a lot of food left over from a family event, pack it up neatly and bring it to Crossroads, (don’t forget the plates and plastic silverware.) Try to have at least one day a year when the family makes bag lunches to be distributed to the homeless. That one activity may be enough to encourage children to think beyond their own needs. The joy in giving to others can do wonders that last a lifetime.