I don’t know you. I don’t know anything about you. But I think about you all the time. I first noticed you standing there a couple weeks ago, holding a sign that said you needed help with rent. You were both there. I assumed you were married. I remembered thinking that you didn’t look like the typical people who stand outside on a corner asking for help, and I remember thinking to myself that I had seen so many of “you” lately.
I wondered what your story was. You both looked healthy and pleasant to me, and your clothes appeared clean. In my head you had taken the bus to that corner, because I didn’t see any cars parked by. I started thinking of excuses in my head that would prevent you from going out and getting a job instead of standing outside all day. You both looked like you were able to work. The bookstore, for instance, was hiring; and conveniently located right across the street from where you both stood. I knew this because I had just visited there and noticed the sign out front. Surely any income would help go to your monthly rent payment?
You were the one holding the sign, and your “wife” stood by you, holding onto your arm, smiling and waving at everyone that drove by. It was peculiar. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
When I drove back by later that day, on my way home from work, I noticed you were both still there. This time, a boy who I assumed to be your son, was sitting on the corner with you. I remember catching my breath for a moment at the site of this beautiful boy. I guessed his age to be not much older than eight or nine, although I’m not very good at that. The three of you spent the majority of the weekend on that corner, I’m guessing, because I frequent that area quite a bit and noticed you each and every time.
I’ve seen you all there a handful of times since. All three of you in the late afternoons, when I assume your son is finished with school for the day. I’ve seen the three of you there when it is cold and raining, and I worry that he won’t have dry clothes to put on. I worry that maybe his classmates will drive by with their parents and see him sitting there, playing in the grass, and I worry about how that will affect him at school. I worry about what example you’re setting for him. I worry about what his time is like away from the public eye; where do you go? Do you still have possession of your home that you need help with the rent for? Is he hungry? Are you responsible parents? What do you tell him when it’s time to visit the corner? Does he understand what purpose it serves? Is he safe? Is he loved?
Why are you choosing to spend your days asking for spare change instead of applying for jobs? Is it wrong that I am asking that question? You see, I notice anyone standing with a street sign. I notice them and I don’t often offer anything of my own other than a prayer. Lately, it’s gotten hard for me to even do that. There are people with signs everywhere. Have we really gone that down-hill as a society that this is the last resort, or are that many more people just wanting a hand-out? When did my heart get so hard to even think that other than feeling empathetic?
I am sorry for whatever bout of bad luck you’ve stumbled upon that this is the way you’re having to live your lives. Most of all, I feel for your son. He shouldn’t have to spend his days on the corner of a busy intersection while his parents ask for money from those driving by. He should be in sports. He should be running around with his team, getting dirty and having fun. He should be doing his homework, and bartering for an after dinner snack and a later bedtime so he can watch one more episode of his favorite TV show. He should be at home; not sitting on the corner getting soaking wet during a rainstorm. Safe between four walls. While his mother cooks and his father teaches him about his favorite sports. I don’t care how cliché it sounds. Your son should be enjoying his childhood, not sitting on a corner pulling at the grass for hours at a time. Maybe you understand that. Maybe those are your hopes for him, and maybe this is your only way.
Whatever your story is, I hope things turn around for you. I know you weren’t at the corner today; I know because I looked for you. I thought today might be the day that I pull over and have a conversation with you. Regardless, I will continue to pray for your son. I hope that God strengthens him. I hope that he’s able to make something good out of this; to grow up and do well not only for himself but for others. I hope that corner never defines him. He has the potential to do anything. I hope that you see that.