Walking down the streets of Chicago this week I saw a young man holding a cardboard box that read “begging and ashamed”. Now, I usually feel bad for folks who’ve resorted to panhandling -even if I sometimes wonder about their need. I wonder what it would be like to live on the street and imagine walking in their shoes -telling myself I would surely make the best of such circumstances. But when I saw this kid, something was different. Maybe it was his age (not much older than my own kids). Maybe it was just his demeanor (slouched so as to avoid eye contact). Whatever the reason, I started thinking he was someone’s kid. How must his parents feel? Did they know their son was in this situation? Were they unwilling or unable to help him? Then… I imagined this scruffy young man as my son. Bam! I was struck to the core. What if that was my kind, innocent, loving son driven by who-knows-what circumstances to beg? Ragged, tired and dirty on some strange sidewalk. Begging. That simple notion created a void inside me so big it overwhelmed me. So long as it was me that I imagined in his shoes, I could handle it. But as soon as I saw him as my son my empathy went through the roof. His situation became intolerable -no, please, not my son!
I wonder what would happen if every one of us imagined those in need not as our tough selves, but as the vulnerable child they once were. Our child, full of dreams and brimming with potential. If we did, I think the world would be a slightly better place. A place brimming with smiles and donuts. Speaking of which, I’ve got a dozen ready to be had. So, if you’re in the office today, please come grab a sweet treat. If not, don’t worry. Dirk Kitteridge is sure to give any leftover donuts to the homeless (as he has on so many occasions already).
Photo: Sweet treat shop window display taken yesterday morning in Chicago