The first week of June, we went on vacation and spent a couple of days in the Boston area. We saw some of the sights that the city has to offer. We took a Duck Tour, visited the Science Museum, the Boston Aquarium, and took a Swan Boat ride. But the most memorable and touching event of the vacation took place just inside the door of a subway stop near the Boston Commons.
A man sat in the entry to the subway station with ragged clothes matted wiry hair, and hands and face crusted with dirt. He croaked out to us as I hurried my children through the atrium, looking away from him. As we descended the steps to the turnstiles, Ben was pulling on my jacket… “Dad… DAD… that man needs help. We have to help him. I think he was missing an eye! Leah and Isaac jumped in, “Yeah, he looked kinda scary. What are we going to do?”
I slipped my hand into my pocket filled with a lot of loose change from the days travels and collected it all in my hand, maybe $2.00 worth of change, and asked Ben, “Do you really want to help him?”
“Yeah, Dad, we gotta help him,” so I handed Ben the change and said “Here, let’s give him this, it isn’t much, but maybe it can get him something to eat or something.”
Ben dashed back up the subway steps. Stood in front of the man, and said: “Here. I hope that this helps you,” and handed him a fistful of change.
“Thanks a lot, little guy, my name is Steven.”
“I’m Ben,” he replied, reaching out to shake his hand, just as I had taught him in Cub Scouts a couple of weeks earlier. The man’s dirty hand engulfed Ben’s tiny one and he shook it briefly.
“Thank you very much,” he said, “That is very nice of you.”
I stood a few steps away at the top of the subway steps looking at the man’s bright blue eyes (he wasn’t missing an eye after all) and feeling a mixture of shame of myself and extreme pride in my son for creating one of those moments that makes a lifetime memory out of an ordinary event. Feeling tears almost come to my eyes, but not quite getting there. And knowing a couple of facts for sure at that moment:
I think Ben would have given the man all of his birthday money at that moment if the thought would have occurred to him. I felt like I had almost failed as a parent and a role model by simply turning away, and hoping to shield my kids from a desperately poor person, maybe out of instinct or not wanting to answer any questions about the reasons why, which I may never know.
Maybe it was a deep seated greed that wanted to keep all of that spare change for myself, or the assumption that the money would be used for alcohol or drugs, and feeling justified at keeping the money myself, and not wanting to tell the kids that. But who knows for sure? It is not my place to question why a man asks for help, but that I should give it freely. And it took the son to be the role-model for the father to remember that lesson.