People in Washington, D.C., and its surrounding region do a lot of posturing. They show up in front of the White House to protest. They attend events about achieving social justice. They even do the occasional fundraising campaign for some favored cause of the moment.
But if the truth is to be told, for all the protesting and pretending to do things for others, the reality is that many people give little help or show much in the way of the way of kindness to those in need right in front of us.
Three years ago, while walking through Lafayette Park near the White House, I met the man captured in this photograph. He had a smile on his face even though he was homeless, with little to cover himself and nowhere to go other than to sit on a park bench.
I gave him a few dollars, chatted with him for a few minutes, and even said a prayer with him. I listened to him as he told me what was going on with his life. Before I left, I wished him a good day.
The need for small acts of kindness came up again yesterday as I walked around the Jonestown section of Baltimore, passing by the Church of St. Vincent de Paul. There in front of the entrance of the church was a man sleeping, likely getting the only peaceful slumber he can because he has no home.
Nearby in the church’s park, an organization was feeding the crowd of homeless men and women, providing them with the only nutritious meal they will have all day. One man celebrated as he ate his meal, saying that it was so good that he had to “slap his mamma”.
There are some 7.473 homeless men, women, and children in the Nation’s Capitol, and another 2,725 (including 1,400 young men and women under the age of 25) in Charm City. Certainly their issues are systemic in nature the extreme consequences of the interplay between low-quality education and lack of resources (as well as the reality that even the best decisions cannot overcome the dearth of both). That many homeless men and women suffer from mental illnesses, many of which manifest while they are in elementary and secondary schools, also highlights the need for advancing systemic reform to address those problems.
At the same time, we can all do something small, random, tangible and kind, even as we posture and rant about the state of the nation today. A few dollars, some kind words, even help a church or nonprofit provide meals. If we are truly to be moral people who want better lives for our children, we must also want to help those who are in need right now, who were once also children, who also need our kindness and concern.
Giving Life Out of Sorrow: Earlier this year, the joy of my friend, Jeremy Lott and his wife, Angela, turned into pain when they found out that their then-unborn daughter was suffering from exencephaly, a rare birth defect in which the brain is developing outside of the skull. They only got a few months to enjoy little Cecelia kick, move to Irish music, and get rowdy in her mother’s womb before she died stillborn this past July.
Others would have let the massive weight of a child’s death crush their spirits. No one could blame them. There is nothing worse than the death of your own child. Yet Jeremy and Angela went a different direction. They used their grief to do something for other people’s children.
Over the past few months, they convinced others to donate some 82 books to the Whatcom County, Wash., public library in Cecelia’s honor. Those books , including such children’s books as Anita Label’s Hello, Day! and Eric Carle’s From Head to Toe, will now be borrowed and read by children at three of the library’s branches.
Certainly the book donations won’t erase the pain of Cecelia’s death. Nothing can do that. But in their effort, Jeremy and Angela are giving life in the form of literacy to generations of children who will never met Cecelia, but will carry her spirit with them in every word they read.
All of us can give life to all children, from donating books to local libraries, to tutoring kids in your neighborhoods who are struggling with their literacy. Let us all follow Jeremy and Angela’s example in our own lives.