Last Friday I got off the train and headed to the corner of
Madison and Canal. The corner was swamped with people.
I found a place to stand as I waited for my husband to pick me
I noticed a tall unkempt man walking toward me and I knew
immediately he would ask me for money.
As a Chicagoan I am used to being asked for money; it's part of
big city living. I usually give a quick dollar, some change,
maybe leftover food or a bottle of water.
But still, I felt some annoyance and discomfort as he
approached. Why is he choosing me in this big crowd of
people? He started his sales pitch, but I was already in my
purse, searching for a few dollars.
He reached for the money, looked me in the eye and quietly said,
"You know I don't want to ask for anything, you know I don't like
I held his gaze and realized his vulnerability - he almost
sounded like a child. His nose was running and he looked so
cold. He reminded me of my children when they need my
help. He reminded me of myself when I am scared.
He needed money, but he was asking for something more -
validation, understanding, and compassion for his situation.
Maybe he made some poor choices along the way, maybe he was a
victim of circumstance, but regardless, he just wanted to be
seen. He wanted to be recognized and looked in the eye.
I put my hand over his hand and said, "I know you don't want to
do this, I know that". He said, "I want to pay this back, but
if I don't see you again, I will give to somebody in your honor." I
said, "That would be great, please do that."
He said, "God Bless you", I said it back, and he walked
away. I took a deep breath and the thoughts began to
My mission as a parent educator is to help parents see their
children. To help parents validate and acknowledge who their
children came here to be. To teach children that they belong and
that they have a place in this world.
But does it stop there? Children grow into adults and this
kind of reassurance is still necessary - people need to know they
matter, that they belong, that they are understood.
They need to know they are not alone and that someone is willing
to listen. It's important to give this to our families, but
it's also important to offer this to our community, our city, our
world. This is what connects us; this is what humanity
So today I am writing about this experience at my local coffee
shop and there is an elderly gentleman sitting nearby trying to
engage me in conversation.
My first response is agitation (this is work time, I must
complete this article!), but the story of the Chicago man is
sitting in front of me on the computer screen.
I am writing about the experience, but did I integrate the
lesson? I am sharing so I can teach, but am I practicing what
I preach? I decide to push the computer aside so I can really
listen and respond to this man.
We talk about the final four (he shares his picks), but
conversation quickly turns to his life - he is 85 (actually he
says, "I am 58, but backwards") and his wife passed away five years
He says she was beautiful. He says he misses her. He
says she loved poetry and he likes to hand out poems she enjoyed to
"spread the love".
He reaches into his bag and hands me a wrinkled piece of paper
with a photocopied poem. He says it's a special one just for
I am glad that I live, that I battle and strive
For the place that I know I must fill;
I am thankful for sorrows; I'll meet with a grin
What fortune may send, good or ill
I may not have wealth, I may not be great,
But I know I shall always be true,
For I have in my life that courage you gave
When once I touched shoulders with you.
Cathy Adams is a certified parenting coach, yoga instructor and mother to three girls.
See more of Cathy's stories here.
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