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Driving into the car park of my local supermarket was something I had done weekly for the past 13 years, but today I saw something I had never seen there before.
A homeless man.
Surrounded by his bed made of a quilt laid on the concrete, a shopping cart loaded with bags full of what looked like rubbish to me but of what I’m sure was his most needed possessions and a few plastic bottles scattered around him.
I slowed down – not to be rude, but firstly to take in and appreciate how truly blessed my family and I are, and secondly, I needed a split second to consider if I was going to acknowledge what I had seen to my five year old son or not.
I barely paused before the words came tumbling out of my mouth “do you see that man lying on the ground?” I asked.
My son replied, “What is he doing there?” I explained the situation as lightly as I could saying that some people don’t have homes or food to eat each time they’re hungry and that our family is fortunate to have what we need and then some.
My son continued to ask questions which I fumbled to answer – my mind was racing ahead.
My heart wanting to help. My head questioning the move. Would the man want help? Would he be offended? Am I being presumptuous to think that he needed my help?
This lifestyle was likely to not be new to this man. He had learnt to survive, perhaps it was his normal – but deep down my decision was made.
As I loaded the groceries into the trolley I placed a few more bananas, an extra punnet of strawberries, some crackers and then 3 loaves of bread. I normally only buy 2 so my son asked: “Do we need 3 loaves of bread?”
I replied, “No, we only need 2 but the man we saw might want one and a few more things.”
For the next 15 minutes my son kept asking when we were going to give the man his food – meanwhile I was still contemplating how it would be received, whether highlighting this mans unfortunate situation to my 5 year old son was fair and honestly, I was wondering how tough the strangers journey must have been to set up home outside my local store.
Sorting out my groceries from his and then jumping back into my car, I drove around to where I had seen him half hoping he was no longer there – I was nervous.
Not only was he there, but a friend had joined him. I watched as his friend neatly folded up blankets no different to how I would at home.
With my son watching on, I grabbed the groceries, jumped out the car and walked over to the men.
I gave a hello and was warmly greeted. I just explained that should they be hungry I have spare groceries. The man thanked me and ushered me to leave them a few metres from where he was. He made some remark about cigarettes and alcohol – but I didn’t catch whether he said he would have preferred them or whether he didn’t touch them.
Either way – I did what my heart told me to do.
Strangely, and perhaps selfishly I really didn’t feel like I’d made much of a difference, my heart didn’t feel bigger as I’d expected. Maybe because I felt that I needed to buy the man groceries for me more than he actually needed them. It made me question whether selfless good deeds exist or whether deep down helping someone else really helps us too.
Fast forward 6 hours and my thoughts of earlier in the day had faded – overlaid with cooking meals, showering kids, cleaning and the normal daily grind. My husband tucked our 3 sons up in bed and did the nightly ritual of songs and a prayer.
My 5 year old sat up and said: “Dad, pray that it doesn’t rain tonight, I don’t want the man that we saw today to get wet, otherwise he won’t be able to sleep.”
As it turns out, selfishly or not, I got what I needed – I got the reminder that as parents, our everyday actions are watched, our words are listened to and our children are learning – from us.