“Look at that man,” she said. “What’s he holding?”
“It’s a sign he made,” I said.
“What does the sign say?”
“‘Homeless and hungry, please help,’” I read.
There was a moment of silence in the car.
“He doesn’t have anywhere to live,” she said, processing.
Then, softly, she said, “We could give him some money, maybe.”
“We could,” I said. “But the only money I have with me is the two dollar bills your Grammy sent you. Do you want to give him those two dollars?”
“Yes, we should help him.”
I rolled down the window and the man came over. Both his hat and sweatshirt had the U.S. Navy insignia on them. “It’s not much, but I hope it helps you,” I said.
“God bless you,” he said.
We drove off. My daughter was quiet for a moment. Then, quietly enough so that it sounded like she was talking to herself, she said, “I hope he finds someplace warm to sleep.”
“I do, too,” I said, sad. “It’s very cold out.”
“I wish he could come to our house and stay,” she said, “and we could be friends.”
I looked in the rearview at her, watched her looking out the window into the winter dusk.
“That was very nice of you to give him the two dollars Grammy gave you,” I said.
She looked at me in the mirror and, as if reassuring me with an obvious fact, she said, “I’ll get more.”
It’s true that kids aren’t very good at sharing, but it isn’t because they don’t want others to have their things. This was the same kid who just a few weeks ago fought with her cousin over every toy either of them opened at Christmas. But I’m convinced that children don’t fight over toys because they’re stingy, but because they don’t understand the idea of limited resources. It doesn’t occur to them that if they take another child’s toy, it means that child will no longer have that toy. Likewise, I don’t think my daughter understood that giving her dollars to another man meant she would have less. Her primary orientation to the world is an expectation of abundance.
The world is not always abundant to all of us. It certainly isn’t abundant for that veteran standing on the corner last week. But my little girl is right about her own abundance: she will most definitely get more dollars from Grammy. She has a bed to sleep in all by herself; it’s big and warm and it’s in a room of her own in a house that has food and clothes and warm running water. She can’t see the ways she’s privileged and entitled, how she ignores the abundances of her life when she throws a fit because she can’t watch another Curious George cartoon or eat a piece of candy. But she isn’t selfish; she doesn’t want to withhold from others; she innocently wants everyone to enjoy the same abundance she takes for granted.
She’ll grow out of it. We all do, don’t we? Somewhere along the way we begin to learn that when we give something away, then we no longer have it, and we focus on the things we lack at the expense of others’ needs. The expectation of abundance quickly becomes one of scarcity. We give only when we’re certain we have plenty to spare or when it benefits us to give. We look at others in need and we hurt for their very real losses, but their scarcity reminds us of how we close we might be to our own lack, and abundance loses out. It won’t be long before my child understands that most of life is zero-sum and that giving means not having – and the most important thing is to always have.
I wish that wasn’t what happened to us. Because I think that there is actually a great deal of abundance in this world. I believe there’s enough food for all of us, enough shelter, enough water, enough light, enough work, enough friendship, enough love. I suppose that’s a little naïve on my part, but we drive through some rather nice neighborhoods on our way home and my daughter likes to point out the houses that have more than one chimney. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that there is enough heated indoor space in this city to physically accommodate every citizen with a warm place to sleep.
There are limits to the abundance we personally experience. We don’t have all the time in the world, or all the energy and investment, or all the resources. Sometimes individually we don’t have enough money, enough energy, enough love. The idea seems so scary because I have stopped trusting that others are out there to help me. Maybe it’s because I know that the world has bought into the lie of zero sum. Maybe it’s because I would rather take on too much responsibility so I won’t have to ask for help. Whatever the reason, I’ve forgotten that when my well runs dry, I can say with confidence, “I’ll get more.”
I hope that this year is a year of abundance for you and your family: health, money, happiness, etc. But more than just being a recipient of abundance, may we reclaim that sweetly beautiful belief that we can give because we’ll surely get more.