I was a chaperone for #1's field trip to Philadelphia. The entire fifth grade from his school made the two hour bus ride to tour historic Philly. I really wasn't sure how much he was getting out of the experience. I had to give him the camera so he had something to do and didn't wander off.
We were making it through the morning fine until #1 saw a homeless woman on a bench. When his teacher saw him getting close to her, she rushed over to him to move him away from her, since she had seen the woman have a verbal altercation with the park police, just a couple minutes before we arrived.
But, regardless of how much we told him to stay away from her, he kept going back to her. I'm not sure if it was her cart or anything in particular about her that drew him to her. I think to him, she was just a person sitting on a bench he could interact with.
But, the woman became agitated with him, and my friend Mark, who was also a chaperone that day, and also the parent of a son with autism, tried to explain, "Sorry, he has Autism", but she responded hostilely and then said to us, "I don't care if he has Autism, he needs a wrap-around". She then attacked my parenting abilities. I had to leave before I made her an organ donor. Can't raise the kids from prison.
As we walked away, Mark and I looked at each other and asked, "What's a wrap-around?" His teacher told us, it is like the one-to-one aide #1 has at school. Hey wait, that homeless woman knew about supports for special needs. Was she one of us? Did she have a child or a relative with special needs? Why did she know this?
And just like that, my anger turned to sadness.
Sad because it was a cold and rainy day and she had no place to go. But mostly sad, because she had most likely brushed off the one person who saw her as a person. Not a homeless person or a person with any social stigmas attached, what-so-ever, just a person that was worthy of being talked to just as much as any other. He wasn't scared or wary of her because of her appearance, hell, he didn't even notice that. He just saw another human-being on that bench and wanted to talk her; nothing more, nothing less. He gave her a gift, but she was so tainted from her life that she didn't see it, and that was sad.
#1 asked me after we left, "why didn't she want to talk to me?" I told him that not all people are nice or friendly and we should leave those cranky people alone. "But Mom, why was she cranky?" Did I really want to get into that? "Well, she was cold and had no home, so she was cranky", I told him. "You mean, she doesn't have a home?" He was intrigued now. "No buddy, not all people are lucky to have a place to live and we should be grateful for our home and what we have", I told him.
"Why doesn't she have a home? You mean she lost it? She lost it forever? Will we lose our home?" and the questions kept coming. I finally said, "no buddy, we're not going to lose our home, and I don't know her story. But, don't worry, we will be fine."
"Can we go back and see her?", He asked.
Nope, never. Na-ah. But I knew if I said that, the questions would resume. I said, "If we go back to Philly again, we can see if she is still there."
He asked when we'd go back and I told him, "maybe over spring break". He seemed satisfied with that and then settled back in his seat and didn't ask about her any more.
Anytime I see someone in the same situation as our hostile homeless woman, I wonder what events in their life that led them to that bench; that terribly unpleasant place that now is their lives. I always opt for compassion and sympathy and that event tested me. When she verbally attacked my child and me, I was ready to rip her guts out, but I redirected and moved on. It wasn't about me or him, it was all her. I may never know her story, nor why #1 was so determined to be in her space, but I know for certain, that his ability to look past the external stimuli to see what he sees in things and people is rare, and regardless of her reaction, he truly gave her a gift that day.
I wish he could use that gift to find a missing Rembrandt at the next garage sale.