It was typical late-fall rainy Saturday on the West Coast as my son and I meandered through town. One of our stops included the bottle depot - a chance to “cash in” on the pile of containers that had collected in our garage. We cashed in on a whopping $12.60 (which is actually a fair-amount if you’re familiar with bottle returns).
For years we’ve been in the practice of giving our bottles or the money we cash in to various charities or good causes. This year we agreed the neighborhood food bank was a worthy option.
But as we were leaving the bottle depot, we met homeless man going about his daily business (i.e. cashing in bottles from his daily bike route). Incidentally, I had just met him earlier in the week at said food bank. I knew he lived in a tent by a nearby river.
So at the car I asked my son if we should give the man the money instead. He agreed. Turning around we went and introduced ourselves and gave our gift. The man remembered me, although he was a little stunned, perhaps wondering what the catch was. Then my son and him bandied on about bears, coyotes and other critters that are a normal part of living in the woods. My son was intrigued to say the least and the conversation went on for a few minutes. But it was raining, so into our warm car we went, off to do more errands and eventually head back to the confines of our dry home. Off we went.
My distracted Saturday-errand-mind was jolted to attention. I take our house for granted. Yes, there is bills and mortgage payments that remind me whose house it really is. But for the most part, I don’t think about it. It’s my house. I take a house for granted.
And of all people, shouldn’t my four-year-old son take his house for granted?
Now distracted by the profundity of my 4-year-old's question, I gave a simple answer: “Um, because we’re lucky to have enough money to live in a house.”
His “oh” was followed by my internal “whew” - discussion diverted to preparing for our next stop, the pool! My reflection on this one question, however, has persisted.
My son’s world is getting bigger. He notices things - notices important social realities. He’s meeting people who are different than us. And being more social than I’ll ever be, he has no problem striking up a conversation with a stranger whoever it is. As such, he’s learning.
And I’m learning.
I’m learning that generosity is more about sharing with others than me giving from a position of superiority or wealth (as if $$ is all we have to give!). The homeless man’s gentle interaction with my son was a gift worth far more than our $12.60. Need and vulnerability is measured in more than dollars and cents.
I’m also learning to discover where I should stop taking areas of my life for granted. My seemingly trivial residence actually reflects a deep dependence on the support of others, be it from family, banks (!?!), or employers.
And finally, like most parents, I get tired of the relentless ‘whys?’ from my son. Yet like most parents, I’m learning that sometimes ‘why?’ is often the very question I need to stop me in my distracted tracks.
If there’s one thing I can take for granted, it’s that there is much wisdom to be found in hanging out with a 4-year-old, ‘whys?’ and all!
Recommended: Tim Keel, The Cardboard Shack Beneath the Bridge