“The rewards of compassion are not things to wait for. They are hidden in compassion itself. I know this for sure.”
~~Henri Nouwen, Here and Now
Alternating between past and present journal entries, this happened recently…
My granddaughter, Cora, who is five, had been saving money in her pink piggy bank, and one cold Sunday afternoon recently she decided it was time to part with some of it. She, her mom (my daughter, Rose) and I were going to brunch at Lucky’s, and she was promised that, if she was able to keep herself under control and in her chair during the meal, she could buy a gum ball at the restaurant (nothing like a bribe to elicit cooperation.)
Cora was unnaturally angelic during the meal, concentrating with greater-than-usual focus on her drawing in anticipation of spending her money on something resembling candy. After the meal, she bought her treasured gum ball. In fact, she was allowed to get three, one for each of us.
“Now,” Cora said matter-of-factly and with authority, looking levelly at her mother and me, “I want to take the rest of my money and give it to the people who don’t have houses.” “People who don’t have houses” is a phrase I have sometimes used to describe to my grandchildren my friends who live on the street. Rose and I exchanged surprised glances at an idea that seemed to come from out of the blue, but we knew it was an offer we didn’t want to refuse. “I think I know where we can find some of those people,” I told her.
We left Lucky’s and drove downtown to the spot I had in mind and stopped the car. A handful of people who are homeless were on the sidewalk, and I knew a few of them. When we rolled down the windows, they crowded around the car.
Let me say, by the way: I don’t advocate going downtown, opening your windows and handing out money, for many reasons. When I go downtown to help give away clothing or food, I never take or distribute cash. But neither Rose nor I were about to tell Cora she couldn’t ‘live her dream.’
I told her, “You can just give each person a coin as you wish,” and she did. Chaos briefly ensued as Cora handed out her coins through the back car window, but she was undaunted. When the money was gone, everyone outside the car offered their blessings and their gratitude.
Several people wanted to pray with us, so we held hands through the window and listened while they offered their prayers for bounteous blessings on us, guidance for themselves, and strength to overcome their particular problems.
Then a woman I know, Donna, looked at Cora in her rear car seat and said to her, “Now, I want you to always stay in school! It’s very important. Do you promise?” Cora stared at her with wide eyes, very solemn, and silently nodded assent. Donna continued, “And always, always depend on yourself. Be able to take care of yourself when you’re grown up. Don’t expect anyone else to take care of you.” Again, the solemn and awed assent from the back seat.
“Now I can go to McDonald’s tonight and get a cup of coffee!” Donna told us excitedly. “I’m a hot-drinks person myself,” I told her. “Nothing better in this weather.”
We drove home, blessed by this exchange with these people from the street. I am always awed by their faithfulness and the bounty with which they are able to offer blessings to those who come to see them.
The next day, and many times since that time, Cora has said to her mother or me when the subject of ‘people who don’t have houses’ comes up: “Remember that woman??? Remember what she said to me about ‘stay in school’?” “Yes,” her mom or I will say, “and she also said…” “I know! I know! About taking care of myself!” she says, impatient with us, making it clear that she doesn’t need to be reminded.