An Open Heart
One day I was walking down the street with my mom and saw an old man wrapped in dirty blankets. His hair was long and he spelled of a horrible odor as we walked by. For some reason my dad entered my mind. Somehow this man reminded me of my father. It wasn’t that he resembled my dad but the smell was an all too familiar one – that of alcohol. The man reached out and touched my moms arm asking if she had any spare change for him to get some food. Mom pulled her arm away from him and grabbed me with her free hand pulling me along as she hurriedly walked away telling him that she unfortunately could not help.
As I looked back at the man I was filled with grief – sort of made me miss my dad. It made me wonder if my dad had ever stood on the corners like this when he reeked of alcohol. I asked my mom why he was outside laying on the street and she replied that he was homeless. Homeless, I repeated in confusion. She said yes and went on to tell me how he lived on the streets, didn’t have access to food on a regular basis, had no place to wash his body, air or clothing and probably had no family to care for him.
Of course I knew my dad had these things when he was alive but sadness still overwhelmed me at the thought of my dad being homeless and alone. Quite frequently I fantasized about him coming home but at this moment, something beyond grief began to fill me. I was filled with disappointment, anger and frustration. Since I was about age three I remember watching the late night feed the hungry children in Africa commercials but I never fathomed we, America, had a problem feeding and housing our own people. From my three year old perspective, all problems were solvable. With all the resources Americans had, we certainly should all be able to live under one roof without problems, right?
Now actually witnessing homeless people eat out of trash cans, sleep on street benches or cuddled under bridges to protect themselves from the earths sometimes harsh elements of cold, wind and even the sun or hearing of homeless persons dying in the streets brought anguish and discomfort to me. I wondered where their families were and how such things could happen. My body physically throbbed with pain when I thought of the emotional, mental and physical discomforts the homeless encountered daily.
Not a day went by after the encounter with the homeless man that I didn’t consider ways to resolve these problems. One day, not long after seeing the homeless man on the streets, I decided I had the answer to end homelessness and world hunger. Rushing into the kitchen where my mother was seated at the dinner table, I said to her almost out of breath, “Mommy, we should let all the homeless people live with us…AND, we can feed them too.” My mom looked at me with warm eyes, as if she knew my pain, but her mouth uttered, “Stacie, we can’t just bring strangers into our house. Some of them are sick, dirty and we can’t trust anyone. I’m not willing to jeopardize your safety or the safety of your brothers and sisters.”
I stood firmly planted on my legs and looked at my mother with an indescribable disappointment. Her words cut deep into the core of my soul and although I was hurt by her response I continued to plead my case for the hungry and homeless. “Ma, I’m not afraid. They won’t hurt us if we take care of them. They will be grateful just like you tell us to be when you feed us, clean us and give us new clothes. I know we only have a little bit of money and our house is not that big but they can sleep in my bed. I will lie on the floor and I will watch them to be sure they don’t steal. We can find their families and then take them home. Plus, you always make big pots of soup and it’s always left overs for three days. We can share our soup!”
My mom turned away and began to fiddle with the items on the table. In a low grumble my mother said, “Stac, we can’t do that.” Just as I began to respond in a whiny voice, “but ma-meeeee”, my mother turned to me and said, “NO! N-O- and that’s it. Don’t say anything else about it.” I was crushed! I walked away with my head down, tears filling and flowing like rivers from my eyes.
I was disappointed, hurt, angry and just plain sad that people had the means to help others but were just too selfish and afraid to do so. Furthermore, I couldn’t believe my mom was one of the selfish ones. I promised myself that when I grew up I would always keep my doors open without fear or selfishness. All I considered is that it could easily be me without a place to lay my head. I could not begin to imagine the discomforts of being on the streets when temperatures dropped below freezing. Equally, I could not imagine being in Africa with desert like conditions, without water to quench my thirst. Nor could I think of not having food to eat to soothe my grumbling belly. I figured, when I grew up, I would change the world. Of course looking back I see that my mom was clearly trying to protect us but my views remain.