Would you pick up a homeless hitchhiker? I did…
Would you pick up a homeless hitchhiker? Would you let your kid give him money? I did, and I’ll probably do it again.
Picking up a hitchhiker may seem irresponsible while there is a child in the car. But a group of homeless men in Brisbane are responsible more than anything, for the life Jaiden and I now call “Normal”. Daily I would pass the homeless group on my morning run to work; they were always friendly and waving as I ran by, which was in stark contrast to the few hundred people I shared the train with a few minutes earlier who took all steps just to avoid eye contact. It started with me joking to my workmates “I am going to buy an old van and live by the river with the homeless guys, those dudes seem happier than everybody on the train”, but 6 months later the joke turned into reality as I quit my job, bought a caravan, sold everything, and took off into the unknown.
Our first few months in a caravan were spent in Byron helping Jaiden adjust to his new reality, I too was exposed to a new reality. It was not one driven by money or possessions; rather it was driven by the love of adventures, experiences, and connection. People I met were sleeping in the back of station wagons or crappy old vans, eating Pasta and drinking $4 bottles of red wine, however they were some of the happiest and friendliest people I had ever met.
These international travellers, and the homeless gents down by the river taught me a lot about judging a book by its cover and over the years we have picked up more than a few hitch hikers, we’ve sat and chatted to homeless people, given out food, money, and will always go out of our way to try and help someone in need. Whilst we don’t have a lot of money, I want Jaiden to comprehend and appreciate just how lucky we are. Over the years some of our experiences (like meeting homeless children) have really changed the way Jaiden thinks about homelessness.
Whilst teaching children about stranger danger is important, I think it’s also important that we emphasise that as a whole, people are generally kind, loving, caring, and honest individuals who are not out to take advantage, or to harm us. It’s easy to listen to the news and feel like there are predators waiting in the shadows everywhere we go, but the media machine is based on fear, segregation, and often hidden agendas. I think the constant barrage of “bad news” often creates a level of fear that is irrational because the news neglects to report on the billions of kind people around the world. I think we can be aware of the bad in the world, without letting it stop us from living our lives, or connecting with people.
A couple of years ago I shared a post about Jaiden (11 at the time) walking to the shops for the first time by himself and shared my opinions on the need to both prepare children for the dangers in the ‘real world’, but also give them an accurate perception of people and humanity, not one jaded by a barrage of negativity pushed by the media, link to that article in the comments. Many people reacted negatively to the post, messaging me saying it was irresponsible, and several hundred people stopped following our journey after I shared it. The thing is, since that fateful day Jaiden has learned to navigate the world, and people, by himself. For many years Jaiden was fearful of strangers, teaching him how to communicate with a shop keeper, or ask for help were simple skills that Jaiden needed to master in order to integrate into the world, instilling him with fear of people would have made this journey far more difficult, if not impossible.
These days, Jaiden is always on the lookout for a way to help someone. Many years of me pulling over to check on people with broken down cars means Jaiden will point out a breakdown, he’s literally searching for people to help. Likewise, if we see someone hitch-hiking, many times (space permitting) we will pick them up and offer them a ride. This is where “Mick” comes in, we were off for a shopping trip when we noticed him on the side of the road, we picked him up and got chatting on the drive into town. It turns out, his journey to homelessness was due to business closures due to ‘rona, him being unable to pay his rent on support payments, which ultimately resulted in him losing his car in order to pay the outstanding rent and debts. Despite all of this, it wasn’t enough and he found himself on the streets.
We reached our destination and Mick asked “Do you happen to have a few bucks for a bite to eat?”. In this moment, the thoughts running through my head were “Is he lying, is he going to buy booze?” and at the same time “This guy does seem honest, why would I just assume he’s going to buy alcohol due to his homelessness?”. I had a quick look through the car and had no cash on me whatsoever, typically I would take someone and buy them something to eat, but we were on a time crunch so I said “Sorry mate, I don’t have a cent on me”. He smiled and said “No worries, thanks for the ride”.
As he went to get out of the car, Jaiden grabbed his wallet, pulled out a $20 note and handed it to him without hesitation. Jaiden only had about $40, and half of that he’d just given away to a total stranger. Not wanting to block Jaidens act of generosity, I said “Mate, my kid works bloody hard for his money, and doesn’t have a lot, so please spend it accordingly”. He took the $20 from Jaidens hand and said “It’s ok mate, I don’t drink, it’s just been a few days since I have had a decent feed and I am 4 days away from being paid”.
As he walked away, $20 note in hand, the pride on Jaidens face was immeasurable. Sure, there’s a chance he was lying and would go and buy alcohol, maybe he was a drug addict, or all 3. But maybe, just maybe he was one of the many tens of thousands of people who have lost their livelihood in the past 2 years through no fault of their own. Jaiden and I took some time to discuss this, because while I want Jaiden to see that most people are genuine, I also don’t want him to be blind to the realities of life. Despite Jaiden being well aware that there was a chance he’d waste his hard earned money, he turned to me, shrugged and said “Well, I did the kind thing, so that is all that matters to me”
These last couple of years have been incredibly isolating and lonely for many people, us included. It’s seen people segregated, families fall apart, friendships disintegrate; all through the information (and misinformation) spread both online and through the media. People have lost homes, jobs and businesses through no fault of their own.
I think now more than ever it’s time to put aside prejudice, and focus on our similarities, not our differences. I cannot change the world or people’s opinions, nor can I fix the problems humanity faces. But I can do everything in my power to change the world directly surrounding me through love, kindness, caring, and compassion towards every person I meet, and encourage Jaiden to do the same.
“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” – I think we can do this, one act of generosity at a time.