A couple of Saturdays ago, I took my daughters on a walk through Central Park. They like to zip along on their scooters, and I’m always afraid they are going to inadvertently knock down an old lady, so I steered them to a track that runs around some empty basketball courts.
They were racing along and laughing when I heard someone shout out of nowhere, “GET YOUR KIDS OUT OF HERE! GET OUT! GET OUT!” and on and on. A man stood up, wild-eyed, dirty, and obviously crazy. He ranted about 9/11, the police, aliens, and God knows what else.
I can be a bit of a bitch sometimes and my first instinct was to shout back at him—who was he to be ordering people around?!--but since my kids were with me, we just ignored him and moved along. Swiftly. Much safer that way.
“Why was he yelling at us?” my daughters asked. I opened my mouth to tell them that he was crazy, that he had no right to scream those things, to forget all about him.
But then I remembered how I harp on them about being compassionate. Hadn’t I just lectured them about considering other people’s feelings? I guess that’s easy enough for me to say.
So instead I talked to them about what that man’s life must be like. He was obviously in need of help. What happens to people when they lack the skills to take care of themselves even in the most basic ways and they have no family for support? New York City offers services for the homeless, (in fact, in NYC, everyone has a *right* to housing) but they can’t MAKE anyone go to a shelter. If we called the police, that guy probably would just end up in jail.
I assured them that they weren’t doing anything wrong, but that in addition to feeling compassion for others, it’s also important to judge when to get the heck out of dodge.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about that guy a lot lately. Especially now that it’s getting cold.