Illuminated Parenting

What I Learned Sitting on the Side of the Road – My Messy Beautiful

What I Learned Sitting on the Side of the Road

I have the most adorable dog. Really, it’s true. My son says he’s ridiculously cute. A small, long-haired, black and tan dachshund named Louie, four inches off the ground with a tail that could sweep streets. Now, before you start sending me pictures of your sweet doggie, I do understand we may be biased, mayyybe, but I am regularly stopped on the street where people fawn and coo at his soft, little head with cute golden dots above each deep brown eye. I mean, you do see the picture-right?

Anyway, that was the usual experience until the other day when, while waiting for a friend to go on a short local hike, something surprising happened. I woke that morning without much umph, thinking I could get away with my baggy Seahawk sweat pants, my crummy shirt, big sweatshirt, gloves, headband and rubber boots. I was going hiking after all. I didn’t need to look good for the trees or my friend. I will admit I looked pretty funky.

I parked in the lot where I would meet Mike, my son of another mother (and that’s a whole other story) and headed to the street to sit on the curb so Mike could find me easily. As I sat there with my adorable dog, four nicely dressed women came up the street from a restaurant. They spotted Louie and came straight for him, until, they got a good look at me. Then they gave us both a wide berth, smiled awkwardly and scurried past. I was very confused.

I looked at Louie. He looked at me. Hmmm, it took me a minute… maybe you’re faster than I am… but I eventually realized they thought I was a street person! Ha! I looked down at my outfit. Yup, I could have been homeless and living in a cardboard box. I did not understand the rejection of Louie who didn’t look like he had mange or scurvy. I guess looking at me they assumed he had fleas or lice or some dangerous disease.

What this experience really gave me was quite a bit of pause, a glimmer of what it might be like to be a homeless person. Just a slight taste and it was very bitter. Assumptions were made. I felt defensive and dismissed. I know I have done the very same thing as those four women. Not knowing what to do, unsure of the state of mind of a street person, I move by without a glance. I give to the right charities that I hope can make a difference. And yet there is not a dent in this problem. It only seems to go on and on.

What is to be learned from this experience?

Looks can be deceiving. We need to do something for our street people that cannot fend for themselves. These are true. But ultimately the issue boils down to society’s inability to make a change. And that’s you and me. How impossible it must be for someone without the right clothes, hairstyle, and grooming to get a job, or go to school, with these kinds of visceral automatic reactions. I don’t think anyone could see the graduate school degree, the ability or deservedness in my appearance that day. Lucky for me, I can go home and change.

I was talking with an old friend who holds some very strong opinions about government interference in her world. She mentioned her sadness about a person she knew, mentally ill, struggling and unable to get back on her feet. So much so, she was in danger of losing her children. When I commented this person needed more help. She said to me, there’s nothing the government can do to help.

I was stunned at this statement. Of course the mental health community, funded by the government, could accomplish a great deal if they had the resources. I understood her feelings. She doesn’t want to give our taxes to lazy people or programs that don’t work, afraid that we are throwing money down the drain. I agree with that. None of us like useless programs or fraud but that doesn’t mean we just shut the whole thing down and give up. It surprises me that people can tolerate others living on the streets without trying to find a solution.

A Strategy to Consider

There are answers and they can be less expensive than one would think. Much cheaper than making our emergency rooms, police, legal and prison system deal with this issue. Our world would be much better off if we could adopt a strategy of –

  • Create a plan
  • Try it out
  • Revise as needed to eventually reach the goal.

Families, couples, neighborhoods, cities, politicians, everyone could benefit from such a strategy. Unlike today where there are only your facts and my facts and my facts have to win and we do it my way…without any changes…or else it’s seen as a failure.  The good news is that many people, including politicians, yes, even politicians of all sorts, agree on many issues. Where they argue is the how. Somewhere along the line there needs to be a plan, with some of what you think, some of what I think and then we tweak it. How much better the world would be and your own little family if we could think along these lines.

  • What is the goal?
  • What is a plan?
  • Let’s experiment and see how it works.
  • Did it work? What needs to change?
  • Let’s try again with the new and improved plan.

This can only make the world a better place.

Try it at home. I think you’ll like it. Try it in your community and see if you can get some people off the streets with regular meals.  Louie and I will do the same. He’s actually very good at getting people to work together… because…you know…he’s adorable!

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, click here! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, click here!

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