Editor's note: This article was originally published on Lindsey Bell's blog. It has been republished here with permission.
His clothes were tattered.
His hair was dirty.
And he pushed an old shopping cart (which, I'm guessing, held everything he owned).
I knew he was probably homeless. But my four-year-old son didn't. Not yet. He was too young to understand. Too young to have preconceived notions about the way someone looked.
We saw this man a few months ago, during an unusually cold day in May. As we drove by in our relatively new (less than 10 years old) car, my son saw him first and asked me, "Mom, why doesn't he go inside and get warm?"
I didn't say anything for a second, trying to figure out the best way to explain homelessness to a four year old. I finally landed on, "He probably doesn't have anywhere to go, Son."
"Why doesn't he just go home?" If only it were so simple.
I was quiet again, not wanting to say too much or too little and most certainly not wanting to crush his innocence. "He doesn't have a home."
"He could come to our house and sleep in my room." Again, so simple. My mommy-heart was so proud in that moment. My son wanted to help. He wanted to do something. He didn't care about the way the man looked or smelled. He didn't worry he might steal something from his room or worse. He simply saw a need and wanted to meet it.
What saddened me, though, was that I didn't.
I didn't really want to help. I didn't really want to do anything except get home and go about my day. To be honest, I was too scared of the "risk."
Well, maybe that's not honest.
Because scared probably isn't the best word. Selfish is probably much better.
Instead of reach out to someone in need (someone, by the way, who is just like me except that he ran across some difficult times), I chose to drive by and go about my selfish ways.
As I sit here now on my Macbook in my air conditioned home and think about a future blog post I plan to write (on teaching generosity to our children, no less), I feel like a schmuck.
Because here's the truth. If our children aren't generous, it's probably our fault.
Most kids I know have an innate desire to help hurting people. When a little girl sees a crying baby, she instinctively tries to soothe him. When a three year old runs across a hurt animal, he wants to help it.
Sure, there might be exceptions to this. Some kids might not be instinctively kind. But most of them are. Or at least … they would be if we wouldn't discourage their generous efforts.
I'm by no means saying we should take in every homeless person we meet and potentially put our families at risk. But I am saying we shouldn't be so comfortable just driving by. We should wantto do something. We should want to help.
There's something wrong with us … with me … if we don't.