For some reason the "M" decal on my keyboard’s "M" key is coming off. Instead of looking like an "M," now it looks more like a lowercase "V" with a midget "I" on either side. Not a big thing really. I know what key it is. Still, I don’t like that I now have only half an "M" hanging out there. For me it’s like having a scab on my elbow that I can’t stop picking at.
Anyway, I decided that since I wanted the key to look "normal" I’d go over to an office supply store. I figured that I could find something that would allow me to fix the problem. I’ve seen these packets with different color "letters" that get used for various types of presentations and whatever. I thought that it shouldn’t be that hard to find the letters in white and just put a new "M" on the key. And, if that failed I could always buy a permanent marker with white ink.
For some reason things never are as simple as I like to think they are. The office supply store I went to didn’t have anything I could use. I decided to go somewhere else, like a hobby or craft store. Perhaps they’d have something. That didn’t work out too well either.
Standing outside the craft store, I tried to think of what my next course of action should be. Nothing came to mind though. So I found myself engaged in one of my favorite pastimes: watching people. Being Saturday, all of the weekend shoppers were busy moving about, so there were plenty of people for me to watch.
As I stood there watching the flow of foot traffic and trying to figure out where to get an "M" for my keyboard I noticed a woman and her young daughter. They seemed to be on their way to do some sort of shopping. As they walked along, the little girl would wave at the various people as they passed by. I could see some of them smile and wave back. I smiled. I thought it was cute.
Then I saw something that made me feel both sad and a bit angry at the same time.
There was homeless gentleman walking down the sidewalk. As soon as this mother saw the homeless man, she grabbed her daughter’s hand and pulled the little girl as close to her as possible. She let go of her daughter’s hand only after the homeless gentleman had passed them and was 10 or 15 feet away. She even looked over her shoulder to make sure that he was a "safe" distance away.
My smile turned into a grimace.
I can understand a parent wanting to protect their child – especially from strangers. That’s part of being a parent. But this woman hadn’t taken her daughter’s hand as they passed anyone else. She hadn’t tried to "protect" her child from any of the other pedestrians except the homeless gentleman. That stinks!
I could have understood her actions had the homeless gentleman done something that seemed menacing. I could have understood it if he had been drunk and staggering down the walkway. I could even have understood it had the sidewalk been so narrow that people would have to move to one side to avoid physical contact. But, this was a broad sidewalk. Three people could have been walking side by side and still had room to spare.
This gentleman did nothing that should have warranted such action. If anything, he actually moved closer toward the street to allow the woman and her child the additional room to pass.
What I saw was prejudice. And that also stinks!
Prejudice manipulates our darker sides. It erects walls of intolerance. It weakens – and cheapens – the social fabric of the community. Nothing good can come from it. It destroys everything it touches – including the human spirit.
It’s a demon that can be overcome only by compassion.
I have witnessed so many acts of kindness and compassion toward the homeless from the average everyday person. I’ve seen "regular" folk go out of their way to try and make life just a little less harsh for someone without a home. I’ve known members of the community who have actually rented a motel room for a homeless person just so that they might have a chance to sleep in a "real" bed – even if only for one night.
These acts of mercy have always stirred a seed of hope within me. They have given me a reason to believe in the generosity of the human spirit; the ability for us to rise above our own selves and see others through eyes unblemished by hypocrisy.
In Reflections on the Human Condition, philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote,
"Compassion is the antitoxin of the soul: where there is compassion even the most poisonous impulses remain relatively harmless."
What a wonderful cure.