Last November, I was in NYC for an event. It was 6:20 p.m. as I’m walking down, I think Park between 42nd and 44th. Somewhere in that general area. It was busy, as usual. People coming or going to home and work. Typical city.
I’m walking in my fabulous pink suede shoes trying to get to this event. It’s busy and I’m feeling rushed. Then, I see a woman sitting on the ground with a baby (maybe 2-3 months old). It’s a boy, he’s dressed in a little blue bunting-type outfit. I didn’t see her as homeless at first, I thought she might be resting. But of course, she was sitting on the ground so then I realized what I was actually seeing. He was perfect, she was feeding him a bottle.
Perhaps I’m more sheltered than I thought, but a homeless mother with a very small child is not something I’ve ever seen. I know mothers and children are homeless. I remember in one of the places I once lived a ramp down the street that homeless people would use as a shelter. It pains me to think of their struggles, but aside from volunteering with people in places like the Salvation Army, I’ve never walked past a homeless mother and child.
As I grew closer, I almost felt frozen. I wanted to honestly just say to her, “Hey, you shouldn’t be out here, it’s getting cold. The place where I’m staying had kindly upgraded my room, so I have this big one-bedroom suite that can sleep practically 6 people. Want to stay there?”
But, I didn’t.
I wanted to stop and reach into my handbag and pull out all the money I had on me (I think about $165) and give it to her.
But, I didn’t.
And I’ve wondered why not? I’m sure if I did either of the options above, people (my family and maybe some friends) would think I’m looney tunes. Sure, I was busy and came to go to the event I mentioned. I could see that my helping this women out would certainly damper my plans. Sure, there’s risk involved, wouldn’t I hope someone helped me out if I were in her shoes? She didn’t exactly look like a big threat, as if she might hurt me…she had a baby with her! I watched other people nearby and nobody else did anything either. Did I hesitate because I was hoping someone else would?
Perhaps she’s there at that spot often and the passer-by have passed her before. Does that make it any less painful to pass her?
My reaction (or better yet, not reacting) was not my normal response. See, whenever I pass someone on the street, I try to stop and offer to buy them a slice of pizza, a sandwich or a coffee. When approached by someone asking for money, I offer a warm meal instead. Sometimes the people who’ve approached me decline my food offer and reiterate their request for money, other times they smile and are happy to accept my offer.
Given the current crisis people are finding themselves in - jobless, financially strapped, and really down and out…I wonder if we might be seeing more of poverty that brings people to the place where this woman I saw was. I keep wondering, given that I noticed her accent, if she could have even used help finding services.
But I kept walking.
If my boys had been with me, what would I have done? I’m quite sure I would have stopped to buy her dinner because they were with me. Compassion is something I want my sons to not only have, but also something I want them to not be afraid to act upon.
So why did I walk by this homeless woman and her child?
This question has nagged at me long after. I realized in order to teach my boys compassion, it’s important that I lead and live by example. Since then, I brought my boys to a mother and children homeless shelter in my area. We brought fresh fruit and veggies and craft supplies. We did crafty projects and snacked together. The residents were glad we came, and we were certainly glad we went (I coordinated this as a Boy Scouts pack activity). For Christmas, we shopped together for the items on an adopted family’s wish list. I wanted my sons to see that know the importance of paying it forward, and know that action can make a difference.
So, I ask you: what would you have done about the woman I saw and what do you do to teach compassion?