When we pulled off the freeway I saw him. He was dressed in a long, brown jacket that reached to his ankles. His grey hair and beard were wet with rain. His sign read, “Hungry. Anything helps. God bless.”
I never carry cash, but sometimes I have extra food. I had nothing. We locked eyes for a moment and I smiled at him. He returned the smile and then his eyes drifted to the backseat.
His look changed to something I couldn’t quite read.
He seemed to shrink and he took a step back.
The light turned green.
He didn’t make eye contact again and I drove off.
For the next few minutes I was lost in thought about this man. Imagined stories swirled around my head and I tried hard not to cry. Thoughts of a family lost fought with images of addiction and mental illness. A human cast aside, either by free will or by circumstance, is something that makes me profoundly sad.
“I bet he knows a lot more than us,” my son says from the back of the car.
“What?” I ask a little startled.
“Did you see that guy with the long jacket?” he asks.
“I did,” his sister says. “Did you see him mom? He was looking at us?”
“Yes,” I say.
“I think he is a wise man,” my boy continues. “He probably sees so much being on the side of the road. We are in our car or house, while he is out in the world seeing stuff.”
I didn’t know what to say.
“I think I know what I want to be when I grow up,” he says.
Please don’t say homeless man, I silently pray.
“I want to sew myself a tunic and then travel all over the world,” he says. “I will find someone to train me in sword fighting. I will help people.”
“Like a knight?” his sister asks.
“Yes, but in real life,” he says. “I don’t know how I will do it, but someone needs to.”
I could have given him a lecture about how ridiculous that plan is. A modern day knight that roams the world fighting bad guys with a sword. It’s absurd.
But I didn’t.
I just let the words hang in the air. I let him imagine himself a force for good in the world.
The rest of the drive was filled with ideas on how that might work. He came up with problems that he might encounter and how he might get around them.
“It won’t be easy,” he said finally. “But nothing is. You have to work hard if you want something.”
Those words made my mommy heart swell with pride.
Those are MY words repeated back, but in a way that makes me think he might be getting it.
Being a parent is complex and I am often overwhelmed and lost. When I have to tell my kids to turn off their bedroom light or flush the toilet for the 1 billionth time, I think I might lose it. But that stuff doesn’t really matter.
What matters are conversations in the car, wanting to defend people and seeing the good in a homeless man out the window.
That’s the stuff that matters.
And my boy gets it.