Thanksgiving is here and, especially in November, life has a funny way of reminding me what to be thankful for.
“Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving,” the guy with the “please help” sign said after I gave him a few dollars as we waited for the slow light to change to green.
“You’re welcome. And Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.” I replied, wondering whether he was going back to a shelter or to a house with a three-car-garage after his stint on the corner.
Honestly, I really thought about it.
If I have any cash in my wallet, I usually help someone out who’s asking with a sign. And if you ask me with a baby on your hip at 10 p.m., standing in front of Target the night before a holiday, I’ll give you a boatload. At that point, I don’t mind if I’m getting scammed. The baby does it for me.
Things have got to be pretty rough if you’re out in the cold, peering through people’s windows or toting your baby around. hoping for a little help. I believe these people need it. Something must have gone wrong somewhere along the way. Maybe my little bit of money will get them a ride on the bus or a warm cup of coffee; perhaps a pair of socks or a warm blanket? I choose to be hopeful that they are not taking my hard-earned money to buy themselves an i-pod or drugs and alcohol.
There never seems to be enough time to talk to the people asking for money to learn about their story, but they must have one. I want to ask them what happened. “How’d you get here?” “Do you really have a pregnant wife at home?” “Which war are you a veteran of?” “Are you really hungry?” But I don’t. I wish them well and go on my way, grateful for my life and its abundance.
On Sunday, a family was in the back of church, standing around an older man in a large wheelchair. His eyes were alive but his body was still. His wife stood next to him, holding his hand, and his son and daughter stood behind him, with their hands on his shoulders. I walked by and smiled at the family, hoping I wasn’t being too intrusive as I gazed at them, remembering what it was like standing behind my own father in a wheelchair at Mass.
In the parking lot, I ended up walking behind the family. The wife was two steps in front of me and I said, “Pardon me.” “Yes?” she replied. And I asked, “What happened to your husband?” She stopped walking and said, “Two years ago, he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease.” I told her I was sorry and told her it was so beautiful to see the love they have for him in their caring gestures. We then said goodbye and as I started to walk away, she stopped me and said, “Thank you so much for asking.”
I’m sure two years earlier, her husband’s life was just as normal as anyone else’s. He probably had a job and a wonderful home life. And then, he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease and his world came crashing down around him. He’s debilitated and in a wheelchair now, but he hasn’t always been.
I’m sure that the men and women who are asking for help on the streets probably haven’t always been in their dire situations either. Like the man with Lou Gehrig’s disease, they had a life before they found themselves in their present state. They all spent Thanksgiving around a table with their families giving “thanks” and probably “giving” as well.
Not only during the holiday season, but throughout the year, I truly believe that everyone down on their luck could use a bit of kindness. Maybe it’s a few dollars handed through the car window at a stop sign or just a simple acknowledgement and a smile. A little can go a long way.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you on the cement islands looking for a little help and to the family caring for their father and husband with Lou Gehrig’s. It is because of you I am softly reminded to be grateful for the life I have had and the life I am yet to lead.