Yesterday, as Garth and I were leaving the house to go on an errand, we found three street kids hanging out at the Free Bench with their dog. It was already pretty hot out. The kids looked beat. The skin on their faces had that sort of oily sheen and puffiness that skin gets when it has endured heat and sweat for days, and one guy in particular seemed a little befuddled in a way I associate with poor sleep and inadequate hydration. The young woman held a coffee mug she’d picked up from the Bench, and Garth asked if she’d like some water in that cup. She gratefully said she would and they came in the house together to get some. I asked the guys if they’d like some, and brought some out for them as well.
Here is what I notice as I reflect on this small exchange. 1) I would have been friendly and welcoming to these kids had I encountered them on my own, but I might not have made the fact of their simple need for water conscious enough to act on it; that took Garth. 2) Once someone showed me the way, I naturally wanted to help. 3) And, still, it didn’t occur to me to offer them food, which they probably needed also. Anyone who has opened our refrigerator knows it is always embarrassingly jammed with food, yet it just didn’t occur to me to offer some of it to them.
I am not guilt-tripping myself and asking for an emotional rescue, here. I am simply struck by these very basic things that did not readily make themselves conscious in the moment.
I love the cinema’s Depression cliche where some traveler arrives at a woman’s door in search of a plate of food if he could chop some wood or do something for her in exchange. She invariably promises rice and beans at first, then softens and gives him more food – which she doesn’t have especially a lot of herself. How much more complicated these exchanges have become, how distorted by mistrust, small-ness, and block-headed clueless-ness, such that I seemed to need prompting to make the most basic of human offerings.