We’ve gotten uber proactive in our culture. Kids learn about sex and drugs at earlier and earlier ages . This is good, I thought, until my son’s seventh grade sex-ed assignment was to go to Walgreens and buy a condom. This wasn’t so good.
We teach them at school, at church, and synagogue about the hazards of tobacco and obesity. We tell them that weed really is addictive and then launch into stories of second-cousins twice removed that 20 years later still mow lawns in the neighborhood. They lost a toe one year due to a combination of illegal substances and an electric mower gone mad, we add, shaking our head.
And few high school educations are complete without Driver’s Ed. Remember the middle-aged guy with bad breath white-knuckling it in the seat next to you as you careened around corners? They taught us well about the rules of the road, and if we were lucky they threw in a tire change just for fun. We learned about the warning lights on the dash, and the proper way to merge onto a highway.
But no one ever talked about Awkward Intersections. These are the stoplights where we are asked to dig deep into our souls, and our pockets. We’re there, one thin sheet of autoglass away from a homeless man or woman with a cardboard sign asking for money, and we’ve got to make a choice.
Depending on the day, how much sleep I’ve gotten, how filled with mirth I am, I respond differently. My discomfort at seeing a homeless person asking for money while I sit in my gas-guzzling SUV may be minimal on, say, Monday. I may ponder how they got there, where they are going to sleep at night, and if this is their usual corner. I might make a feeble attempt to find spare change, but, oh, darn, the light just changed.
On Tuesday, same Awkward Intersection, I might be reminded of a friend of mine who travels with granola bars and bottled water to hand out the car window instead of money. She used to hand out socks. Now, why can’t I be better prepared for these intersections like she is I ask myself and this time I make a more concerted effort to find some money. But dang, that’s one quick light.
By Wednesday I’m skeptical. Truth be told I’m skeptical on Monday and Tuesday also, but something about Wednesday just gets me going about what that person standing there with that sign is really going to do with the money I’m contemplating handing over. I mean, really? Do they think I’m stupid? The neon liquor store sign jeers at me from a block away. Nope, I’m not going to contribute to that.
On Thursday, oddly, there is no one at the Intersection. Now I’ve got a whole new set of emotions to wrestle with. What happened to them? Are they alive? Did they freeze? Get beaten up? I feel sick just thinking of the possibilities.
On Friday I take a different way to work. I’ll be damned if there isn’t a tattered sleeping bag on the sidewalk. A foot sticks out one end and a mangy dog stands watch, waiting for his owner to rise and shine and get on with gettin’ on.
No one ever teaches us about the Awkward Intersections in Driver’s Ed. In fact, no one talks about it at all.
Kind of makes going to Walgreens to buy condoms seem like a walk in the park.
We hope this issue of The Phoenix Spirit is both thought-provoking and inspirational. We’ve sprinkled some holiday humor and poetry amongst articles on homelessness, recovery, and hope. There are book reviews that Barb Kummer does her usual bang-up job on, and John Driggs’ sage advice – this time on Forgiving Yourself When Your Children Suffer. Nell Hurley offers up an interview with local author and recovery coach Gloria Englund, and Dan Maurer ponders Gratitude.
Be good to yourself this holiday season. Share your wonderful self with others, and be sure to carve out some time to renew, replenish, and rejoice in all this life has to offer.