It's not often that I read an article, book, or magazine where the story stays with me for awhile. If you know me well, you know my memory has long been gone. I don't recall much, another reason I love this little blog of mine. A place to put it all. I often check a book out from the library, start reading, and a few chapters in start to feel like I could tell you what happens next. A vague feeling develops where I know these people, these characters. Only to discover it's because I do know them, because I'VE READ THE BOOK BEFORE. It happens more often than I care to admit.
Some stories however, stick with me. Just like some memories, they can't be shaken. A book that did this to me was The Kite Runner. I read it in on vacation in Hawaii. I vividly recall Greta being 2, Sawyer almost 4 and Gunnar 6. After they were all in bed, I remember picking up the book night after night. One evening in the living room of the condo I finished the book, laid it down on the coffee table and wept. Days later, while eating dinner with family, tears just started to flow. I wept for the characters, I wept over the story, playing scenes and words over in my mind for many months. I was fully aware this book was fiction, but I could not shake the feeling that somewhere this had happened, that people, children had endured these situations. That pain this deep had been felt.
Recently I read a story, an article, that has stayed with me. This time it is not fiction. It is about a real family, with names and faces. And I can't stop thinking about it. If you'd like to read it you can find it here, there's 5 parts to the story, and you'll be compelled to read them all. It took me a few days since it was lengthy. I didn't weep. It just made me think, feel, it made me more aware. I am more conscious of what others do not have, and I am aware of our excess. My excess. The article has caused me to look at people differently than I ever have in the past. Before I might look at someone on the side of the road with a sign asking for money or food, and I would quickly look away so as not to make eye contact. Ignore their presence. I would tell myself that if I handed them money how do I know it wouldn't go to their drug or alcohol habit. If I saw children with them, it would make me angry. I would think that those parents didn't deserve to have children. I would think they were using their children for selfish reasons to beg or panhandle.
I'm not sure why these thoughts always entered my mind. Probably to guard myself from feeling too much. Maybe to prevent my true emotions from surfacing. Emotions of sadness and guilt. Of wondering where those children slept at night, and if they were warm. I have a little more insight now, not much, but a perspective that I didn't have before thanks to the New York Times article.
One memory I do have from my childhood is one that only after reading the article surfaced. When I was a child I was inseparable with my Nana. She and I were like this <envision me crossing my two fingers>. I would beg and plead to see her, spend the night at her house, go anywhere with her so as to spend as much time as possible with her. I have a memory of her buying food for a family that didn't have any. We were outside of the grocery store and she knew these people needed food, and she wasn't going to let them go hungry. She bought them groceries, and there was no big 'to do' about it, it wasn't really up for conversation, it's just something she did. And if you know my grandma you wouldn't be surprised. She is one of the most selfless people I know.
The thing about memories is that you never really know when they are going to find their way home. I cherish memories, probably because I don't have many. Like the memory of my dad driving me to school each morning. No matter how late I thought I was going to be for school, he had to stop for his coffee. He would go to the same donut shop for coffee every single day. Leave his truck running, with me inside, ignore my pleadings for a donut, run inside to grab his coffee. There was the same homeless man sitting outside each day. My dad would buy him coffee, food. And when it got cold my dad brought him a jacket he no longer used. It wasn't something we thought much about. Here was a man, cold, living outside, and my dad had warmth to share, so he did.
When I pulled into a grocery store last week for some tin foil and zip lock bags, I made eye contact with a mother. She was standing there next to what looked like her husband, holding a sign about being out of work. In front of them they had an old stroller with their son who was about 2 years old sitting in it and the mother was holding a baby girl. For the first time I didn't look away. I read their sign. I looked at their faces. I did not feel like they were not deserving of having children. I was not angry at them for having their children with them. The courage it took to stand there and ask for help, that's what ran through my mind. And all I felt was the need to somehow help them. Without much thought I grabbed a gift card when I checked out and before getting back in my car I handed them the grocery card. I could not have imagined driving away in my car, arriving back home to my warm kitchen, full children, and clean sheets. Not without acknowledging them, and the situation they found themselves in at that very moment.
I'm not sharing this for any reason other than to comment that words truly affect people. They affected me. I hope I never ignore the sorrow that someone may be feeling. I hope that it's impossible for me to ignore someone's hunger when it's in my power to take that away. I am not a philanthropist who is trying to save the world or solve hunger. But there will be times in my life when I am given the opportunity to help someone standing right in front of me. I can only hope my own children may be watching from the car, or my grandchildren will be beside with me. And I can leave them with the same memory that my father and grandmother have left me.