Wishing the world were a better place (A parenting story)

It was just my youngest daughter (of ten years old) and me last night. CJ wanted to go to a family-friendly comedy show that we have enjoyed going to before. Afterwards, we walked around Westport to find a place for dinner. The Westport area in Kansas City is popular on the weekends. Because of that, it usually has a few folks on the street either playing music for money, selling things on a blanket, or simply begging for change. After walking a bit, CJ asked if we could leave and go somewhere else. I could tell something was wrong, so I asked her what was up. “The homeless people here don’t scare me or anything, but I just feel so sad that I can’t do anything to help them.”

CJ has a huge heart, so when we passed by an older man begging on the street corner, she didn’t hesitate to dig through her coin purse that she had brought for shopping, and hand him all the coins she could find. He was thankful. As we kept walking, I could see her tearing up. When I asked her what was wrong, she simply said “Sometimes I wish the world were a better place.” What does a parent say to that? Sheesh. But I had to say something, so I drew in a long breath.

“It’s up to all of us to try to do just that, sweetie. As humans, we should all be striving to make the world a better place. Otherwise, we’re just taking up space.” Being a lifelong tinkerer, I’m more comfortable with conversations of action rather than lament. Plus, I felt this was more productive. I resolved to continue our talk even after we reached our restaurant and got seated.

While waiting for dinner to arrive, I raised the topic again. Sure, we discussed why people don’t always give money to those who beg for it, and she already knew most of the reasons. But we also talked about the state of mental care in this country and how people who can’t afford that care far too often end up on the streets. I also brought the context to a larger scope, talking to her about how we as people should be trying to solve the underlying problems of things like homelessness at a systemic level, in addition to the quick fix of giving someone some change.

“Daddy.” she said, “When I’m an adult, I want to start a homeless shelter. Will you help me when I do?”

I smiled and said, “I will help you anyway I can, whether it’s for a homeless shelter or any other way you can help the world. But we don’t have to wait until you’re an adult. Let’s talk about how we can help people now, too.” So we discussed making care packages of socks and other essentials to keep in our cars to give to people in need, and reaching out to shelters and other places to volunteer more.

When our food arrived, CJ immediately cut her burger in half and set it aside with some fries. I made sure to set aside some of my food as well (which isn’t difficult anyway, with our huge restaurant portions in the US) After we left the restaurant, we went back to the same old man on the street, glad to find him still there. He gratefully accepted the food we shared with him, and the extra ten dollar bill I gave him. I patted him on the shoulder and looked in his eye as he said, “God bless.”

CJ and I walked back to our car, feeling a little better for what we’d done, but also knowing there’s still so much more to do.