Every morning around 8 a.m., Zion and I leave our home on the east side and head out for the long trek up to his ABA therapy center on the northwest side of town.
This is typically a 30-45 minute drive, depending on traffic.
Zion stays immersed in Kung Fu Panda on the iPad. (annnnnnd thanks to a $40 pair of Skullcandy headphones, I don’t have to listen to it anymore.)
I typically listen to Imogen Heap radio on Pandora, and try my best to just drink my coffee and not cuss the traffic patterns on 465.
If Zion says one word to me on that drive, it is a rarity. And that rarity is typically a command to turn down the A/C or the music or to stop singing so loud.
Those are the moments that I want to reach inside his little body, rip the autism out, and throw it out the window onto the highway.
The $1,000 fine for littering would sooooo be worth it.
But I digress.
Panhandling is pretty common at the corner of Michigan and Vincennes. There stands a stop light that holds longer than a Catholic wedding, so it is a good place for a panhandler to put the pressure on squirmy drivers by giving them the stink eye. Panhandlers have to get there pretty early in the morning to tag that spot.
And every single week day, I have to sit there. Twice.
Once in the morning, and once in the evening.
Last winter, I noticed an older man panhandling at The Light. It was about 5 degrees outside, and it had snowed heavily just a few hours before. My heater wasn’t working very well, so Zion and I were both cold. It broke my heart to think how cold that poor man must have been. He is probably at least in his late 60’s…either that or life has been cruel to him in more ways than merely financial. He stands with a hunch, and appears to have some form of Parkinsons disease.
I sat 5 car lengths back from him, as he stood out there shivering. It pained me to watch him. I didn’t have any cash. I searched frantically for change. I even said outloud, “Why don’t I ever have any cash? Gaw!” Suddenly Zion looked up from his iPad at the freezing stranger and said, “Look at the man. He is cold.”
I looked over at Zion, astounded. I thought to myself, THIS you notice? You haven’t said a word all morning.
I asked Zion, “Buddy, is there any money on the floor?” He reached down and handed me a quarter. I thought to myself, I’m not handing that poor guy a quarter. But my son was staring at me, so I decided a quarter was better than nothing.
I reached over for the button to auto-roll the windows down…but the window was frozen shut. It wouldn’t budge. So instead of opening my door, and extending warmth and charity to this freezing creature, I kept driving.
Zion said nothing.
The next day I looked for the man. He wasn’t there. Honestly, I half-assumed he had frozen to death out there in his own personal Hoth.
Then a few weeks ago, as I pulled up to Michigan and Vincennes, I saw him. It so caught me off guard, that I lost my breath for a moment. It was sunny and muggy out, and it had rained every day that week from sheer humidity. Before I could even reach for my purse, Zion said “I see the man.”
I smiled and said, “Me too buddy.”
I looked in my bag. I had a one dollar bill, and a twenty dollar bill. I couldn’t bring myself to give him twenty dollars, so I took out the one dollar bill.
I rolled my window down and said, “I’m sorry, this is all I have.”
To which he replied, “Bless you sweetie, I hope it doesn’t rain on you today.”
YOU hope it doesn’t rain on ME?
People astound me sometimes.
Zion chimed in, waved and said, “Hello man!” The man smiled and said, “Well, hello mister!”
The light turned green, and we drove on.
As we rounded our left turn, Zion looked out the back window and said, “I see the man in the snow.”
I sat there with my mouth open.
Zion went on, “No roll down the window….the man was cold.”
Holy crap, this kid is preaching to me right now.
The next morning, I took Zion to the bank, and changed that twenty dollar bill into ones. I put the ones into the glove box. I showed them to Zion, and he got super excited. He said, “We go buy movies Goodwill Store?” I explained that the money was for the man in the snow, if we should see him again.
It was a few days later, but we did see the man again. Zion threw his iPad on the floor and ripped open the glovebox. As I rolled down my window, Zion reached in and grabbed the entire stack of one dollar bills.
I tried to explain that we were only going to give a few dollars at a time. Zion pushed the money back at me and said, “For the man! For the man!”
Zion practically leapt over me as he took his Mac Daddy stack of cash, and shoved it at the frail old man. Zion commanded him to “Look at the money!”
By this point I was sort of nervously laughing, not really sure what to say. The man said, “Thank you, son. I think I’ll go have some dinner now.” He picked up his things, and he walked away.
This has been a long story, so I’ll make my point short.
Today’s lessons with Zion have been brought to you, Sesame Street style, by:
- Charity. When you give, do it freely and cheerfully. That money was never really mine to begin with. (read previous lesson here.)
- Common sense/Compassion. No one is suggesting that you give money to every person you see. Enough said.
- Remembrance. Every single person is worth remembering. Every. Single. One.
- Selflessness. So you don’t get to buy your movies from Goodwill. It felt dang good to hand over that gift to that sweet soul.
- Faith. I choose to believe that the man really did use our money to buy dinner. And so what if he didn’t? Our hearts were in the right place, and that day I taught Zion to give. And in return he taught me to give ALL.
Like I always say, welcome to my life where the parent is the student and the children are the teachers.