Monday, August 30, 2010

uncomfortable moments

my boys were the first to see him, as i focused on threading between the cars, their hands clenched in mine, as we cross the asphalt expanse toward the relative safety of the discount store.

half hidden between two coke machines, shopping cart pulled across the opening, for modesty, a man stands, shirt tangling in his arms, collar still sucked tight around his head as he pulls it off. his back is pitted and pulled, a skin map to hardship. shorts slung low by a too big belt, the first yawnings of his crack peek over the waist line.

still facing the brick wall, perhaps pretending we would not or could not see him, he reaches into a white plastic bag emblazoned with the store logo and spins the cap off a bottle of water. lifting it high he spills it over his grease strung hair, across his face, round glittering beads capturing in the brambles of his beard.

"dad, what is he doing?"

"taking a shower, it seems."

his thick fingers work into the cracks and creases of his face, then slip into plastic bag again, removing a new maroon t shirt, obtained in the two dollar sale bin by the checkout. we are almost upon him, as he wraps his old shirt in the plastic before stuffing it into a large duffel by his feet.

passing him, the automatic doors woosh open, swallowing us into the safe confines of the store, but my boys stop, turning to look back through the glass. following their gaze and i see him looking back at us. the skin around is eyes is pale and puffy round, but through the slits i see the man and his fat bottom lip turns in a smile before he picks up his bag and walks away, toward the road.

"dad, why..."

there are numerous questions, many i don't have a good answer to, but you can see it has crawled under my oldest son's skin, an insatiable itch he needs to scratch. he falls silent as we move up and down the aisles of the store and even after we are back in the car on the way home. i let him think, because maybe his generation, if they are uncomfortable with the answers we provide, will come up with better ones.

98 comments:

Daniel said...

Though uncomfortable, it seems like this kind of situation can ultimately be a positive one, especially during formative years.

Goofball said...

tough encounter with reality...yet very educational. I do hope we find better answers one day.

tony said...

Maybe,in Life, The Number of Questions are Greater than The Number of Answers? (lord! that'a another one to add to the list!)

Becky said...

What their little minds see.huh?Im guessing they were bit afraid of course.So maybe when the questions are answered they will be feeling a bit better.Have a great new week Brian!

Nessa said...

It is good to know we will be leaving our world to some people who still care.

Prayer Girl said...

I recognize in stories like this how truly blessed I am and have been all my life. It humbles and makes me grateful.

PG

Bonnie said...

I found scenes like that terribly distressing as a child. As you suggest, perhaps that is one of the reasons why I chose a helping profession as an adult.

Oh ... all the indignities and shame that must be endured by those down on their luck. The scope of homelessness is shocking.

the walking man said...

We have the answers right now but unfortunately no one is willing to give a few extra dollars to make them reality. Like you said, maybe your kids will grow up kinder and more caring than we adults are.

CatLadyLarew said...

There but for the grace of god...
So difficult to explain to our children. Most of us have been graced with abundance, yet there are still so many who slip through the cracks.

Gaston Studio said...

Yes, the good thing is that your son actually saw the man, so many people refuse to do this. A very education event for your son Brian.

A Daft Scots Lass said...

yeah...its hard to explain how cruel the world can be to children.

JStar said...

Harsh realities...but its best that they seen them within your comfort...They will have had to witness this sooner or later...

annell said...

I hope so. When I see someone in need, I try to always look at it as an opportunity. There are many homeless here in the Southwest, and I know it is not easy. Winter is coming, and there is a migration further south. Our town is slowing coming to understand we must do something to meet this need of so many. One of the local churches does lunch on Wed. the parking lot is full early.

Hilary said...

I suspect your boy is going to be much like his Dad. It gives good hope for the world. At least his little corner of it.

Vicki Lane said...

Good -- compassionate without being patronizing. There needs to be an answer -- or perhaps there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

The Bug said...

Lord I hope they do!

Jill said...

OH! YOU KNOW I love this Brian...and may you be RIGHT ON in your sons AND my sons and daughters being MUCH WISER in HOW to deal with these questions that constantly get swept under the carpet or that we dart our eyes away to avoid.

I will be interested to see if your son eventually starts to ask questions...trying to make sense of the senseless.

EXCELLENT. Simply fantastic.

Lori said...

Excellent Brian. It's these uncomfortable moments that give us opportunities to really teach our children. Happy Monday to you and yours. XX

drybottomgirl said...

I admire the last two lines...when my oldest was about 11 he and I worked at a mission serving food to a local neighborhood one night. Alex was dishing out the potatoes and I remember the stunned look on his face when three boys around his own age came in. They were dressed in clothes too big, faces needed washing and they were so grateful for the food. He told me later that it never crossed his mind that all kids didn't have everything they needed. Tough lessons for your boys, but so glad they are aware....sigh....

DJan said...

As always, the story you wrote put me there on the scene. I wonder if kids study anything that tells them about the homeless and why they are there. Certainly the boy saw him, and maybe he will help us figure out how to keep making the same mistakes over and over. There are so many homeless now.

Always Home and Uncool said...

You handled that with grace and ease.

Deidra said...

I like the idea of letting your oldest sit with it, to let it settle in and be uncomfortable. We should not be comfortable with this. Adults shouldn't try to brush it away with easy answers that aren't really answers at all.

Valerie said...

I felt the discomfort but went back to read it again, looking for the positives that come with not knowing.....

Jessie said...

i think, or maybe it's more of a hope, that each new generation will have more solutions, and show more genuine empthay than the generation before. let's hope future generations are more insightful!

smiles,

Kulio said...

I believe our generation usually shelters our children too much, so that they never get a chance to do the thinking they need to do to form their own opinions, or they never get a chance to feel what they need to feel. Good for you for letting him see, for letting him think.

Susan Deborah said...

Children learn through all these episodes. So many scenes that make them wonder and think.

Answers will arrive eventually :)

Joy always,
Susan

Steven Anthony said...

some of lifes lessons are so hard...that sounds like a tough one for sure...Im reminded of that old 8o's song, the children are our future ;)

Steven Anthony
Man Dish~Metro Style
&
Life in the Fish Bowl

Tina said...

It's a careful balancing act between letting our kids see reality, and at the same time, keeping them innocent while they still can be. From what I've read, I'd say you're doing a great job at it!

Fireblossom said...

Here I am, the 1,545th commenter as usual lol.

That's so sad, and one sees it every day. A lot of people seem to feel immune to such misfortune, but I always feel as if I am just a few missed paychecks away.

adeeyoyo said...

Great that you left him to mull over what he had seen - maybe to discuss later. You have such a gift for description and atmosphere, Brian!

Kat_RN said...

Your last line is the best of all. Maybe we should not try to gloss over things. When you raise small children, you hold the fate of the world in your hands. Good luck,
Kat

Magpie said...

Unfortunately, it is a sad reality for some. I'm glad the situation caused your son to stop and ponder without judging. They are our hope.

Tracy said...

Boy, I sure hope so, Brian, because ours just aren't good enough.

Tess said...

Sometimes questions get answered in strange ways. Sorry Ive been gone for awhile but Im back!

Sam Liu said...

The cruelness, the brutality of society is sometimes blisteringly shocking. Your message is a hopeful and uplifting one, we still have hope for a better world.

ladyfi said...

I certainly hope they deal with these uncomfortable moments better than we seem to be doing. What a great way to deal with his questions!

Claudia said...

what i liked - you let your boy think - i may have tried to answer all the questions (i couldn't though) just to soften reality..
i have read a book by corrie ten boom "the hiding place" and she was asking her father something he wouldn't tell her with the explanation that this suitcase of knowledge would be too heavy to carry for her..and with my children i have often thought about this words…so i tried to carry the heavy suitcases for them until they would be old enough to understand..but i think your boy was able to carry this one ….sorry…i waffled...

natalee said...

That was truly touching at the end and hit soo close to home.. I hope our boys generation figures things out better then we did thats for sure!!!!

n. davis rosback said...

so many whys...

blueviolet said...

I suppose if he needs to know more he will ask again. Those moments are uncomfortable, but they also allow you to explain things your way before they hear the world's version.

EKSwitaj said...

Incredibly detailed observations here, and I agree with the conclusion. Let's hope, right?

CM said...

It seems your boys are becoming an observer of the world just like their dad...seeing what others try not to see. Good life lesson for your boys. I'm sure there will be many more questions and hopefully, you'll have the answers or at least know where to find them :-)

Caty said...

there is so much unfairness in the world...although some are victims of their own doing...but I agree, hopefully the next generation's answers will succeed where ours' has failed.

Velvet Over Steel said...

Although uncomfortible, esp. with small or young children, it can also be a very good opportunity as a parent to teach compassion and understanding, instead of judgement and mis-information.

Great post and lesson!
Have a wonderful week, Brian!

~ Coreen

clean and crazy said...

very well written, you took me with you on an uncomfortable moment in time. and yet i felt your empathy and your compassion and your wonderful questions for the rest of us. thank you

Mama Zen said...

Amen to that!

Little Ms Blogger said...

I don't know how I would have handled it because I'm still waiting for an answer to your son's concern.

However, I'm a believer if you don't turn your head and everyone do one small thing to help another person (like drop one can of food in the food baskets for the homeless) things might improve.

Your son sounds like he's sensitive and in-tune with others -- maybe he can pass that along as he grows up to others.

Syd said...

I hope there will be other answers because we don't seem to have them. I often have the same reaction as your son.

Syd said...

I hope there will be other answers because we don't seem to have them. I often have the same reaction as your son.

Baino said...

Good point but are you sure you had the answer? I had a friend recently who took her autistic daughter to the supermarket and gave her one of those little kiddy trolleys. She came perilously close to knocking down a stack of bottles and had a tantrum when a complete stranger made a snide comment about "If she was my kid, I wouldn't have given her a trolley in the first place". The stranger didn't know that this was an important exercise in socialisation and responsibility for the almost agrophobic and uncommunicative child. She just assumed the child was spoilt and pampered.

only a movie said...

That last line is brilliant.

PattiKen said...

Indeed. Such visual stories always raise all sorts of questions. Maybe, if we are lucky, our kids' generation will rewrite many of those stories, eliminating the need to question at all.

Monkey Man said...

So true, we must sometimes let them answer their own questions. Tough times. Tough times.

Brian Miller said...

baino, i definitely dont have all the answers...guess that is my point...if we had them then perhaps we could make a difference...

and i dont think it is a one solution fits all...i think it is many hands doing many things...but i could be wrong...smiles.

Captain Dumbass said...

I like the idea of letting them think about it themselves.

TALON said...

I like that you didn't answer your son's "why" and let him ponder it. I don't think they are simple or easy solutions, but I do think it's good when we question and seek different answers. We can't go on pretending it's only something that happens to other people...

Jennifer said...

There is nothing more hopeful to me than a kid who questions. I have always encouraged questions even if I didn't have the answers.

I couldn't love the summation of your story more.

william said...

its the only way they learn mate, thinking for themselves :)

heartspell said...

At least this one still owned a smile. What indeed, would be a good answer? Heartspell

Matty said...

One of those learning moments in life. For both of you. Even though it's difficult, it's a perfect time to impart your wisdom to him, and explain how life can be.

Nancy said...

Oh yes! I do have hope..

Stafford Ray said...

Interesting your boy didn't ask why. I suspect he is smart enough to know what was happening... he may see things through your perceptive eyes!

Very accurate scene of a homeless person trying, against the odds, to stay clean. Makes one wonder why we provide public toilets but not public showers.

In fact I know of one. In Eden NSW, not only are there two or three (3 minute) hot showers, but also free BBQ's!

AngelMay said...

Good post, Brian. Very thoughtful.

secret agent woman said...

I think my kids were confronted with homelessness for the first time several when we visited San Francisco, and it lead to some interesting discussions about poverty and addiction and mental illness and the society's inadequate response to all those things.

moondustwriter said...

sad and yet people amazingly survive.
I'm glad your boys can ponder the plight of man.

moon smiles

Ed Pilolla said...

what a terrific moment. the youngsters sure notice when something is profoundly wrong with the world, and allowing mentally ill people to go homeless in our world -- or even those who aren't mentally ill -- is not exactly a sign of a compassionate society. it's a diseased world we live in, and are a part of, that not only allows homelessness but jails the homeless in our major cities for aesthetic concerns of big businesses.

thanks so much for reporting this moment.

Fragrant Liar said...

Wow. The reality of homelessness hits home early. And perhaps that's not such a bad thing.

R. Burnett Baker said...

Just an excellent wrap to the story in your last line, Brian. Even now, when I see someone who appears to be less fortunate than I, I whisper to myself, "How does someone get like that?" And I never quite know what "like that" is... I suppose that is an even greater tragedy: Not knowing, and not knowing how to help.

Rick

Sophia said...

Oh wow! I got goose bumps on that last paragraph!! What a very thought-provoking post. Umm...wow...errr...speechless now.

Chocolate Covered Daydreams said...

It takes a special kid to see beyond what is there and look deep within and your son did just that. He will be one of the ones who will make a difference.

Who Is Afraid of Alfred Hitchcock? said...

Hi! Brian...
What a very thought-provoking post...and the answer today is still unanswered, but like a previous commenter mentioned there is an answer...

...My question is "When did homelessness begin?" my parents' may remember.

The bottom line is "we" can't turn a blind eye...at least you and your sons faced the issue. Through your son's questioning and your writing(s).

Personally, I don't think that the homeless want a hand-out, but a hand-up!

Thanks, for sharing!
DeeDee ;-/

Bernie said...

I find I learn far more from the sad/bad things in my life than I ever have from all the good/happy......could be I take for granted the good and stop, think and question the sad/bad.
......:-) Hugs

Zuzana said...

As difficult as it is for children to understand images and situations like this, it is equally difficult for an adult to explain them. As how do you explain dark side of life to a innocent mind, that you try so hard to shelter...
Beautiful and thought provoking as always dear friend.
xo

Just Be Real said...

Life is full of uncertainties and stretching us. Such a touching moment and the end there Brian. Blessings to you dear one.

Shrinky said...

Let's hope they will never grow blind to these things. I have a feeling they won't, after all, you haven't.

TechnoBabe said...

For whatever reason the man lives on the street, I am happy for him that he can look in people's eyes and smile. There is hope in his smile. And my heart rejoices that your son questions what he sees.

Lorraine said...

You ....wow I lack for words...the beauty of your words facing life's poverty, the wisdom of your silence...you are such an impressive human being and father

Sarah said...

There are many things I must let my 7 year old daughter just think about. I don't have the answers she seeks...and you're right, perhaps they will get so fed up they will rise up.

Luisa Doraz said...

Love this one. My kids always think they will do a better job. lol Stay well. Be happy. :cool:

Selina Kingston said...

Maybe. But only the ones with a daddy as senstive and compassionate as you

The girl with the flour in her hair said...

I like how you ended this. With a little hope. Here's to the next generation...

signed...bkm said...

good write and unfortuately children learn that life is not always equal - and the choices we make usally help to determine where we are seen later in life, but not always....bkm

justsomethoughts... said...

you make a grown man cry...


ride, captain ride....

slommler said...

Yes! We need better answers and hopefully the young will ask the right questions and demand it so!!
For we have definitely failed in this arena. Sigh!
Hugs
SueAnn

Anonymous said...

I remember as a child going to Mexico and wondering why. It was hard for me to understand the poverty did not make sense to me I remember those feelings.

Starla

jake said...

An awesome experience for kids. I know that's terrible to say, but if they gain an understanding that those of us can help those in need, or at least know that there are people out there who don't have much, compassion can be instilled at a young age.

Great description, sir!

e said...

An insightful and instructive moment. Perhaps your sons will succeed in finding the answers we have not.

Marla said...

Allowing our children to experience this side of life is a gift we give them. My kids are better people for it. Yours will be too. I truly believe this.

You are a good daddy, B.

slommler said...

Congrats dear friend on your POTW award!! Well deserved too!
Hugging you
SueAnn

Gaston Studio said...

So well deserved POTW mention Brian, I'm in grand company indeed!

ellen abbott said...

Hey Brian. Thank you for treating him with compassion. there go we all except for better luck. However, luck can run out at any time. Congrats on POTW.

Cheryl said...

This one gave me goose-bumps or as Stephen King would say horripilations.

n. davis rosback said...

a side note...

i was thinking of... and wanting pressed flowers between pages in the poem when i was writing.

i find it wonderful that the thought was with you when you were reading.

thanks for the comment.

Mighty M said...

Glad you showed compassion instead of aversion.

gospelwriter said...

An awesome write - children always seem to give us fresh eyes to see with, even if we still can't see what to do about something. Love the conclusion - perhaps the children will see a way, I do hope so.

Meeko Fabulous said...

I'm glad you didn't sugarcoat the situation. I admire that.

Kaylen said...

Yes-we need to let the children think and not fill them with judgement when they are young. Let them think and come up with their own opinions and their own thoughts and their own conclusions - and yes, hopefully someday, they will have better conclusions because ours to date have not been best for all of human kind.

Hold my hand: a social worker's blog said...

Your boy showed quite a sensitivity. You handled the scenario appropriately, keeping the balance. Beautiful post.

Doris