I was playing Backgammon with my nine-year-old daughter. It’s her favorite game to play with me, quite possibly because none of the other kids know how to play it so there is no risk that someone will want to jump in. She had landed on me and sent me to jail. I rolled a double six to get out, but she had pieces on the sixth row. I was stuck, and not only was I stuck but that meant I didn’t get to use the double six at all. In Backgammon, that is a downright tragedy!
“Mommy, I’m so sorry!! That is so sad!!” she exclaimed.
“It’s okay, I’m having fun,” I replied.
“But that is so sad! It’s just the worst! Do you want to roll again?” Her eyes scanned the board trying to find some way to make it all better.
“Thanks but I’m really fine. I’m enjoying the time with you.”
“But Mommy! Oh, I’m just so sorry!” she exclaimed again as she hung her head.
“Evey, look at me.” She looked up. She could finally see the smile that had been on my face the entire time. “I’m not sad.”
My smile was real, and she responded, “Oh!”
We cheerfully finished the game together. She won. We were both sincerely happy as we cleaned up the game together.
Rewind a few weeks. I was coming out of the Winco with my groceries, including popsicles and ice cream, on my way to pick up my kids from a friend’s house before heading home. There was a man sitting in front of the store, thin, pale, and very dirty. It was clear he had been on the streets for a while.
“Can I have you use your ID to help me pick up some money inside?” he asked.
There was so much going through my mind at that moment. Ice cream melting, weird request to use my ID, kids waiting for me.
“I can give you some money,” I replied, and I started fishing for my wallet.
He started to cry.
“I’m sorry ma’am, I don’t need money. My mom is trying to send me some money and I just need to have it sent to someone with an ID so I can get it.” He wiped his tears, and hung his head, expecting me to take that opportunity to walk away.
But here’s the thing. My mother-in-law suffered from bipolar schizophrenia and was homeless for a while. It was hard, for everyone. And my husband and I would send her money when we could, usually Western Union, just like this man’s mom was trying to do. My heart melted and before I knew what I was doing I was sitting next to him against the wall of the Winco with my hand on his knee and handing him my phone so he could call his mom.
His name is Scott. I talked a little bit on the phone with his mom, and talked even more to him after that phone call had ended. He talked about how his mom was always trying to get him into some sort of home or clinic to get help, but that she couldn’t seem to understand how the medicine and procedures made him feel. The darkness and emptiness was too much for him and he would inevitably end up back on the streets.
His mom had offered to put him up in a hotel. I started looking up the closest hotels that I could take him to. He hung his head again.
“I don’t want to be in an empty hotel room. I just need to be with friends right now.”
So, I drove him up to the Wal-mart, where we could both get his money and where he was within walking distance of some people he knew. We stopped to tell the kids I would be a little while longer before picking them up, and stopped by my house to drop off the groceries. As we drove around town, he told many happy stories. He was loved by grocery stores because he would clean up their parking lots. He donated a good portion of the money he would raise to others in need. He always shared any food he found. He had even built an underground tunnel once that was big enough to house fifteen fellow street-dwellers, which kept them cool all summer long until the city came and filled it all in.
He talked about how most of the other homeless people he knew suffered from some form of mental illness, and how marijuana helped so many of them. Not strong enough to make the voices go away, but strong enough to make them ignorable. Drug dealers would often drop off free drugs to the homeless communities on the streets. Scott called it “an act of true Christian charity”.
We finally made it to Wal-mart, I got him his money and gave him a hug. He thanked me and blessed me with all of God’s blessings. And those few hours spent with Scott changed my life. For the first twenty minutes or so of our journey I was racking my brain thinking of ways to help this happy, kind, and thoughtful man. Is there somewhere we can get him a job? Do I know anyone with a room or apartment he could rent for cheap? How can I help??
Then it washed over me with warmth and joy, this realization that he was happy. He was truly happy. And I was happy for him. He had nothing, he was dirty, he had mental handicaps, he occasionally used mild illegal drugs, and his life looked nothing like what society says it should look like. But he was deep-in-your-soul happy. And that feeling I was feeling must have been what Father feels when we are happy.
I knew I shouldn’t try to change anything about him. I just wanted to be his friend. I just wanted to give him some words of encouragement, some validation for his good deeds, and a big hug. So that is what I did. And in his eyes all I could see was love, and, “It’s okay, I’m not sad.”
Sometimes I think I’m like my little nine-year-old daughter, who wants to love and help so much that I miss the mark. I fail to see the people behind the perceived problems. But they are there, all around us. Maybe it’s time I stop trying to fix everything and start just being alive with my brothers and sisters. Maybe there aren’t nearly as many problems in this world as I think there are, and by calling them problems I do no one any favors. Maybe I’m missing out on the best parts of life because I’m too focused on the parts I’ve been told are supposed to make me sad. I’m not going to do that anymore. And maybe as I embrace every moment, even the deep waters, I’ll find that wading through it to the other side brings more joy than trying to backpedal away from it. And maybe I can help others find more joy if I can find a way to support them in their wading, too.