It was an indulgent Friday afternoon in the city with my boys. Lord of the Fries, Kripsy Kreme, new books from the city bookshop and now we were making our way to the lolly shop, before going to Daddy’s work. The boys were bursting with excitement to see Daddy’s work and I couldn’t be happier.
Pushing through the city crowds as we crossed Collins Street I was so focused on not running someone over with the pram that I barely noticed him. I was so focused on getting to the lolly shop that I barely saw him. He was wearing jeans, a grey jumper, sneakers and a black baseball cap. He was kneeling upright. His head bowed very low. His arms raised above his head. His hands clasped together, begging for money.
My reflex reaction was to look away and keep pushing past. Yet I only managed to take ten more steps. Abruptly I stopped the pram and stood there. The people bumping past were annoyed that I was now an obstacle in the flow of pedestrians.
But I couldn’t take another step. My conscience was screaming at me. My head was a football match of voices. He is so young. What happened in his life so that he is here now? Gosh he looks to be my husband’s age. Oh my, surely he must have a family. You can’t solve his problems. Keep going. You are going to be late.
Even if I wanted to keep walking I couldn’t. Something inside me took over. I turned the pram around. I walked back to the man begging on the street. With hands shaking, I reached into my handbag and pulled out my wallet. In that moment I asked AJ to open his hands. Into them I poured all the gold coins I had. Slowly and quietly I told my eldest son to go and place the money in the man’s hands.
AJ did not question me, not even once. Instead he walked over and carefully placed the money into the outstretched hands of the man on the street. When the man felt the touch of the coins he looked up. Over the edge of the baseball cap he saw my son. AJ stood there with one of his biggest and most heart-warming smiles. The look of surprise on that man’s face will never leave me.
There in the grey, cold emptiness of the street a man knelt, begging for money, begging for life, begging to be seen. Yet he remained invisible to everyone going by.
When AJ walked back to me, he asked “Mum why did we give him money?”
Holding back tears I answered “Because no one should be invisible AJ. You have an amazing life, you need to always be grateful for what you have.” He gave me a huge hug, smiled and said “let’s go to the lolly shop now!”
As my boys wandered around picking their sweets, I couldn’t help but twist over the man only a few metres away on the street. I had stopped to give him money. Yet part of me really wanted to stop and ask “Are you ok?” I wonder when the last time someone did stop and ask him that. I wonder the last time someone stopped to talk to him at all. I wonder even when the last time someone stopped to give that man a hug.
I don’t live in an illusion that doing any of those things would have solved the man’s problems. But I do know that if I had kept walking past, didn’t stop, my conscience would have torn me up inside.
Parenting is more than reading the right books and following the latest parenting trends. It is about being the best person you can be. So your children learn to be the best people they can be. We all have our flaws, our own complicated situations and our own struggles. Yet, amongst all that we each deserve to be seen, to be heard, to have a voice. In an effort to teach my boys to walk with their conscience, I need to show them that I walk with mine.
What is invisible in your life?