On Thanksgiving: Kids Can Save Us

Riding the CTA Green Line from Oak Park to downtown Chicago. Photo: D. Wilson

Riding the CTA Green Line from Oak Park to downtown Chicago. Photo: D. Wilson

“They what?..”

On Black Friday last year, my niece from Michigan, her family, my husband and I went downtown to see the holiday lights and a show.

Like many of my visitors, the thing the kids like most is riding the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) train from my home in Oak Park to downtown Chicago. They love it.

Yes, that train you may take to work every single day is a total delight to a seven and eight year old. It would be true for adults too, if we put ourselves in their tiny shoes and saw things thru their eyes.  The girls — Vivienne and Stella — are in heaven on the train.

We got to Macy’s with hopes of touring their magical holiday windows when we were approached by a homeless man asking for money.  Vivienne was surprised to have someone talk to us that we didn’t know. When we declined to contribute, she stood still. The crowd was thick and pushing to see the enchanting story land thru the State Street Macy’s windows.  She just stood still and looked up at us.

We answered that the person was homeless and didn’t have money.  “Where does he live?” Looking down into her huge round innocent eyes, we explained homeless people don’t have a home. She persisted: “... they don’t have a HOME?”

There was no refuge in the truth.

This conscientious little girl and her blond-haired little sister then spent the next two blocks carefully, kindly walking up to homeless people sitting under tatty blankets on the sidewalks, giving away every single dollar of their shopping money. 

That night after the show and the train home, sitting by our beautiful Christmas tree, I noticed Vivvie with her head resting on her fist. The little thinker. She was quiet. Later as her mom tucked her in for sleep, she whispered: “Do they really have no beds or home?”

We made it thru the rest of their visit, going to the zoo and doing some fun things but there was no doubt the idea of real people being homeless, living on the streets, was unsettling to this little girl. Kids have no pretense or preconceptions. They ask questions and with open hearts, they see what many adults have learned not to see.

This holiday season, my wish is that you will take a moment to recognize the good fortunate and many comforts you have and the people who care about you. And also that you will let yourself feel a deep, heart-warming sense of thanks.  It’s so easy to stop appreciating all that we have. Yet gratitude is the true spiritual essence of Thanksgiving.

The other wish I have for you is actually an assignment: Reach out to someone, without pretense, grandiosity or preconception. Be truly present to them. Then help — be it with time, money or love — in a way that feels respectful. It could be something big or small.  It’s been a hard year for many. We are all in this together.

As for my family: Yes, we’ll do all our special holiday activities. We’ll see a show downtown on Black Friday. This year it’s Dr. Seuss at the Chicago Theater. We’ll take the CTA, do some shopping, and see Macy’s windows. But we’re also adding something I hope will be a whole new tradition.

My niece and her family, my husband and I have been excitedly planning out wellness kits for our own Chicago homeless outreach. Items we hope to include: Coffee cards for places where buying a cup includes a warm place to sit; CTA passes for getting to night shelters and granola bars which are better than sweets if you’re super hungry. Many of my friends who do good things have given us great ideas.

We want the girls to be able to share and help others since that’s what they really want to do. 

We need to really listen to kids. They can save us all.

Happy Thanksgiving! Happy Holidays!