I’ve always heard that you don’t gamble more than you can afford to lose. This is why, on those rare occasions I find myself in a casino, I usually take my little $20 in with me, play until it’s gone then pack it in. I’ve paid $20 to the casino for letting me hang around, slurp up watered down drinks, and watch the pretty lights. I’m okay with that. I don’t feel guilty about opening up my hand and letting that money go.
To me, a gift is similar in that it is something that I am willing to open up my hand and let go. Once I give it, it belongs to the other person and I have no say in how, when, or even if they use it.
I saw a video yesterday that reminded me of an exchange I had with my son in Philadelphia when he was about seven or eight. But, before I tell you about that, I have to tell you about our trip to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., about six months before the Philadelphia incident.
My mother was an avid student of World War II. She could tell you more about the Reich principals than she could tell you about her own neighbors. So, when we lived in Latrobe, PA, and Mother came up for a visit one summer, we drove over to D.C., for some sight-seeing that included the Holocaust Museum. Now, my young son was just as thrilled with that choice of venue as you might imagine. He asked why we had to go to that place. I responded, “Because all God’s children are precious until they decide not to be (pretty sure Ted Bundy doesn’t quality) and this is what happens when one group decides that they are more precious than another group. It’s really important that we remember this.”
You never know what children really hear and remember; but, he was okay to go through the rest of the museum on the promise that we would hit up the Lincoln Memorial (his favorite) afterwards.
Fast forward a few months to a visit to Philadelphia when my cousin was in town.
We were doing regular tourist things downtown, which included a visit to Reading Station and the market there at the terminal. We left there to walk to Chinatown because I was jonsing for some pork buns and on a mission to find some. We had left the station and walked a couple of blocks when I felt this tug on my coat. This is the exchange that followed to the best of my memory:
- Curious Son: Mama, why didn’t you give that man any money?
- Hungry Mother: What man?
- Observant Son: That man sitting by the station door. He said he was hungry and asked you for money.
- Clueless Mother: I didn’t see him. But I wouldn’t have given him any anyway.
- Absorbent Son: Why not?
- About-to-be-shamed Mother: Because he just would have spent it on drugs or alcohol anyway. (Which, I must admit, sounded lame even to me and even as it was coming out of my mouth.)
- Beloved Son: Well, you could have bought him a sandwich. Aren’t all God’s children precious?
Don’t you just hate it when your kids throw your own words back at you? They expect us to do something silly like live up to what we say, right? Dammit.
So, from thenceforth, we gave the homeless a gift of either cash or food that we were okay with opening our hands and letting go of. There are scammers, I know; so, the gift had to be something we were willing to let go of. To this day, I buy a Contributor from any homeless person I see selling one. I don’t read them all, but I buy them. And I am thrilled to say that at an adult, my beloved son still practices what he preaches working in food pantries and helping with other charities.
Kids. I knew I was supposed to help him become a good human. I had no idea he’d do the same for me.