I spent a very special day in Chicago yesterday with my daughters. We were celebrating my ten year old daughters making it through a whole year after her intensive surgery to lengthen her tendons and to replace her hips. It has been a long, very hard, very painful year for her, and I thought it was a perfect opportunity to celebrate and make a negative turn into a positive.
The girls wanted to go to American Girl Doll and to Build-A-Bear, and to the Disney Store on Michigan Avenue. So that’s what we did! When they woke up on Saturday morning I sprung the surprise day on them, and we excitedly got ready for our adventure day. We shopped and laughed, and had a beautiful time together.
But as we walked down Michigan Avenue in throngs of people, with expensive clothing and luggage and jewelry stores all around us, loaded down with our packages from the day and pushing my daughter’s wheelchair – I of course, noticed the people on the sidelines. The people with signs that said “Please Help” and “Homeless” written on pieces of cardboard and posted in front of them. Sitting on the corners, wrapped in blankets and coats on a beautiful sunny day, huddled into the corners of this expensive street loaded with money and privilege.
As we walked past them, I felt my daughter’s staring. Didn’t actually see them staring, because as most people do, I inadvertently looked elsewhere. It is impolite to stare, right? But is ignoring someone in need the right thing to do? The polite thing to do? Do we pretend they are invisible because it makes us feel bad to truly see them? In my own case, yes. I am guilty. I do that. I pretend not to see. I can’t take on those problems, they are just too much for me.
But I felt strange, with the girls, and all our packages, and all that we have. I should have taken the opportunity to teach them to be kind, or to do something. Instead I will most likely (full disclosure) put this in my minds pocket for when they do not appreciate all they have. When they waste food, or ask for another toy they don’t need, or say they have nothing to wear. I will whip this out and use it against them as a lesson about how much they do have, and “remember those poor people on the street, when you are so lucky!” I am not proud of this. But I know I will do it.
Two of these people had children with them yesterday on the street. One was a man with a walker, who held a sign that said “single parent” and had a little girl about my daughter’s age with him. She was hungrily eating some bread and sitting on a stoop behind him, as he tried to make money. I looked into her eyes when we walked past and she looked like any other little girl I see every day. Taking ballet class, or gymnastics, running on the soccer field, coming out of school. Another older woman sat wrapped in blankets on the stoop, with a child, maybe four years old, asleep on her chest. She looked beaten down and exhausted. She looked like she was trying to raise a grandchild who was discarded by his mom, and could not do that without begging for money. As we walked by, the most unlikely young man who was walking with his girlfriend, and loaded down with expensive store bags himself, stopped. He pulled off a roll of dollars from his money and went back to give them to the woman.
Where do these people go? Where do they sleep? How can they raise children with no where to live, to be warm, without knowing how to feed them? I can’t wrap my mind around it. I can’t take it all in for fear it will break me in half. But I can’t stop thinking about it either. The utter difference of these people rushing by with all they do have, and the invisible people on the street watching them and begging to be seen.
I wonder, always, at what a child with a disability does in this situation. They can’t be getting therapy, and resources, and equipment like my daughter does, They can’t be getting the food they need.
Maybe what I need to do is take this one little part of what I see and do something about it. Maybe that will teach my children how to help those folks with the signs. And teach them about homelessness and despair, and show them how lucky they really are. Maybe that is the lesson I teach, instead of using it against them I use it to teach them what being a good person really is.