Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Practising What We Preach
In my effort to become better acquainted with many of the classic movies that I missed or simply don't remember I recently watched Guess Who's Coming To Dinner starring Sidney Portier, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. In it, Spencer Tracy plays an upper-class liberal publisher who has raised his daughter to be 'colour-blind'. This comes back to haunt him when she falls desperately in love with a black man (Sydney Poitier) in a time when interracial marriage is still taboo. We watch as Spencer Tracy's character struggles to align his heart with what he preaches and what is happening in his own home.
It was, of course, a fabulous film and I identified with each of the characters: the smitten young woman, the mother who wants her daughter to be happy, but most of all, the parent whose child reminds us that we need to practise what we preach.
For me, recently, the lesson I preached that has come back to haunt me is how we treat homeless people. I taught my daughters that these are not people to be scorned, despised or feared. We have no idea of the circumstances that brought them to this place, and it could just as easily be us. They deserve our compassion and we need to be part of the effort to help them lead productive lives.
That said, a few years ago, my daughter, Cara, began taking dance classes at a studio downtown. She is often there until late at night, and I worried for her safety as she returned to her car which was parked in a dark lot in a back alley. On one of her first nights there she was struggling with the pay-parking meter. A homeless man approached her and showed her how it worked. She thanked him, and he promised to watch her car for her while she was dancing. Sure enough, when she returned to her car hours later, he was still there, keeping watch. She thanked him, a little unnerved, not sure what he was expecting in return, got into her car, and drove away.
The next night, the same man was there, and once again he offered to keep watch over her car. He introduced himself as Johnny. This went on week after week, and Cara learned she had nothing to fear from Johnny. He'd simply adopted this car lot as his own terrain, and he protected the cars parked there from car thieves. Cara began giving him loonies, and bringing him snacks. He was grateful for any little thing she gave him, but never actually asked for compensation. One time she gifted him with an umbrella as so many nights he patrolled the lot in the pouring rain. He was overjoyed with the gift. In the two years Cara has parked in that lot, 4-5 times a week, nothing has ever happened to her car. On the other hand, parked in safer neighbourhoods, like on our own street, at the local Superstore, and outside Cactus Club where she works, her car has been vandalized, trashed and backed into. Johnny really is doing a wonderful service for her.
At first I was skeptical of Johnny and worried that he might harm Cara but I grew to be grateful to him, even though we've never met. In this way I learned to practise what I preached
Last night Cara and her sister Dani were working at a charity event. At the end of the evening there was all kinds of food left over. They are both used to seeing food wasted as they each work in the restaurant business, but this time they decided to do something about it. They wrapped up a bunch of sandwiches and desserts and drove downtown to Johnny's parking lot. At first they couldn't find him so they distributed the food to other homeless people, but eventually Johnny showed up and to show his appreciation, he danced a dance of joy at their gift of food, knowing full well that dancing is Cara's passion. I was so proud of my daughters and their thoughtfulness. On the one hand I'd rather they stayed away from dark alleys and the people who lurk there, and yet I'm glad that they show compassion and generosity when it's safe to do so.
Cara may be leaving home soon to work as a dancer on a cruise ship. She will meet many many kinds of people on her travels. Not all of them will be the gentle souls that Johnny turned out to be, but I will pray that her heart remains open and compassionate while her brain remains alert to possible danger and trickery.
In rereading this post, I realize that Johnny, though homeless, is leading a productive life. Another lesson learned.