One summer morning, when I was in grade school, my dad took my sister and me to the playground. When we arrived, there was a teenage girl, who reeked of alcohol, sleeping on a bench. I was upset at the possibility this girl had slept alone in the playground all night, but Dad told me not to worry. The girl eventually woke up, disoriented and ill. Dad sat beside her on the bench and talked to her for a while. Then she got up and left the playground. I asked Daddy where she was going; he replied she was headed home to her family, as he had advised her to do. Dad didn’t approve of a girl sleeping it off on a bench, but he offered emotional aid anyway.
Years later, as Dad and I walked along Wall Street in Manhattan, we passed a homeless man with a long, dirty beard and newspapers wrapped around his bare feet. Dad suddenly left my side, held out his hand to the man and asked if he was hungry. The man replied, “Yes, sir.” Dad gave him $20.00 and told him to buy food. The man thanked my father and headed directly to the nearest hot dog vendor. Dad didn’t know how or why the man had come to live on the streets; Dad merely saw a hungry man and offered sustenance.
I’ve never forgotten these instances, and so many others, in which my dad displayed true generosity of spirit, something we rarely see nowadays. These people were nothing like my father, but he reached out to them anyway.
This has me wondering…
If I saw a hungry man, would I feed him? If I found a child apart from his/her family, would I work to reunite them? If I found children with dirty faces, would I wash the grime away? Would I give a blanket to someone who was shivering, or offer consolation to a frightened, crying child? Would I give soap to migrant children with lice, or would I succumb to disapproval? Would I turn away because their skin is not the same color as my own, or because the President of the United States preaches against them? I hope I would react to those in need as my father did, empathetically, without interrogation, without judgement, and not fall prey to a holier-than-thou cult of personality that would have me turn away.
My dad, by his own admission, was not a church-going man, but he was the finest example of kindness I knew. He didn’t have to approve of someone’s choices or understand someone’s situation in order to render aid. He simply saw a need and tried to fill it. Dad didn’t have to sit in a church pew on Sunday to live the words of Matthew 25:40: “And the King shall answer and say unto them. Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
I pray our nation will not turn its back on the least of these.