From a very young age, we teach our children about compassion. ... "Be sweet, don't pull the kitty's tail.".... "No, we don't hit, hitting hurts.".... "Use your words kindly, other people have feelings too.", but do we really know what compassion is? Can we really "teach" it to our children or do we have to show it to them?
I am a firm believer in the old adage... "Teach your children how to think, not what to think." The opportunities to show compassion are all around us, we just have to look for them.
Back in the Summer, my husband was gifted a few tickets to go see Thomas the Train, while it was here in Nashville. Micah was super excited. He wore his favorite outfit, he tatted himself up, with Thomas tattoos, he even skipped his nap, in anticipation. To say he was excited, is an understatement. I, however, was not quite as enthusiastic, but, as I (try to) do with all of our adventures, I went into it with an open mind and heart (and plenty of snacks).
The morning started great. We got there just in time to snag a great parking spot, thanks to my husband's status as the official "Parking spot hunter". (It's a whole production he does, when he looks for a parking spot. He does an Aussie voice and everything, it's really kinda cute)
The weather was nice, not too hot, not too cool and the rain that was forecast, held off, until we left. It was actually not that bad. We walked around, checking out the Lego station, waiting for them to call our group for boarding. We bought a sugar free lemonade, it was beyond disgusting. It was so nasty we actually had to laugh about it, but we were still having fun, we were together.
It was finally our turn to ride Thomas. We boarded carefully, as instructed. We picked the very best seats and waited, patiently, for the ride to start. The conductor came around and checked our tickets, to make sure we weren't stow aways. I have to admit, by this point, I was kind of excited. I had never been on a train before, not one that was actually moving, anyways.
The conductor's voice came over the intercom, he explained that we would go a little way down the track, then reverse back into the station. I grabbed my camera, hoping to catch the looks of excitement on my son's face, as he experienced his first train ride, what I actually captured, was way more important.
We started moving, slowly at first, then gaining a little bit of speed. I grabbed my camera. The views, along this part of the rail line were amazing. The vibe was so "cool". There was graffiti under the overpass, there was the beautiful "Ghost Ballet" public art installation, there was the lady in front of us, with a rather large behind, who couldn't resist bending over, a hundred times, to take selfies, with her family. (I may or may not have "chunked up the deuces" behind her, in an epic photo bomb attempt) We were laughing, enjoying the scenery and just having a great time. It was shaping up to be a really good day.
The train slowly made its way down the tracks. As I was snapping, what I thought was, the perfect picture of a beautiful piece of architecture, the view took a drastic turn from hip and cool to real and dark. Like a wet towel in a locker room, I was snapped back into reality.
At the base of the bridge I was shooting, was a sleeping bag, some empty bags, a few bottles and random trash strewn about. It looked like someone had torn open a trash bag and dumped the contents there, but it was glaringly obvious what it was. It was someone's bed. I had many emotions rush over me, all at once. "Oh God, did Micah see that?" ... followed by "What do I say, if he asks me about it?"
The Mama bear in me wanted to shield my baby cub's eyes from the harshness of the world, but the realist in me knew it was too late. Not just in this particular trip, this instance, but in general. He already knew.
Homelessness has hit very close to home for my family. A very close family friend of ours was displaced for several months. He was not a drunk or drug addict. He was not a gambler. He was not lazy or bad at managing his money. He was not any of the things one might think a homeless person to be. He was a kid. He was a six year old little boy, who, due to no fault of his own (or his Mom's) found himself with no where to live.
According to a 2011 study, "Nashville is ranked 40th out of the 100 highest populated metro areas in America in terms of their homeless population, and 59th in terms of rate of homelessness. On any given night the homeless population in metropolitan Nashville can range from 3,000 to 4,000, as can best be determined by the Metropolitan Homeless Commission. This number is assumed to be an underestimation."
Numbers are really hard to put into perspective, when you think of them as abstract figures. Think of these "figures" as people you know or someone you could have been. For the most part, homeless people are just like you or me. They have families, they have friends, they have jobs and they have hopes and dreams, just like you do.
When you see the homeless lady, holding a sign, beside the drive through line, do you avert your gaze, hoping she won't make eye contact, because that would be awkward, right? Or do you smile and acknowledge her for the person she is, not for the beggar you are afraid she might be?
Compassion is about the little things you do or say, on a daily basis, to make someone elses day a little bit easier to bear. Compassion is: not yelling at your kid, when they spill a huge glass of milk, after you just mopped, even though you want to.
Compassion is: realizing your hubby had a bad day at work, so you fix his favorite food for dinner. Compassion doesn't have to be a big deal or a huge production, for it to work. Opportunities to show compassion are all around us, we just have to look for them and be willing to act on them.
So, the next time you take your family out to eat and you see the homeless lady, standing at the drive through line, don't look away. Instead, smile, wave, acknowledge her, slip the cashier a five, ask her to take the lady a meal, because the only difference between you and "them", is an address.
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