Love in practise | A boy called Given
by You Have My Word
Yesterday, Lauren Cloete Henning, posted this story on Facebook. I’m not one to jump on any band wagon of “try change the world” but this story is the furthest thing from that. This story is love in practise. I was stopped in my tracks after reading it, and it’s played in my mind since. Take the time… to read, and to go love practically too.
Every morning on my bleary-eyed journey to work, on the corner of a well know Pretoria East intersection there is a young man, a ‘street kid’ who begs for money. Except that he is the kind of guy you actually want to help – he has the kindest, gentlest, smiliest face.
Working with many inner city organizations I also know that giving money to kids on the street can perpetuate deeply complex problems and one should in most cases never give money – I mean he probably has been given loads of jackets or shoes or blankets and maybe even rents a room or has a cell phone or hangs out in trendy clothes after the ‘school run’ (many of these kids are well versed in white/wealthy guilt – which is why Sundays are great ‘business’ for them as they position themselves near churches and shopping centres in affluent areas) – so when i dont have food or drinks to share with him (this poor kid is so skinny and needs a meal. It’s sub zero temperatures and he doesn’t even have a jacket, etc!) and to make up for my policy of no money handouts, but not wanting to come across as dismissive (and now that he knows what car I drive and what time I usually pass by ‘his’ intersection) and avoid eye contact, I open my window with nothing more than conversation to offer.
Me: So, what’s your name?
Him: My name is ‘Given’, Mammie.
Me: Given? Oh, nice. well you don’t have to call me ma’am or Mammie. my name is Lauren.
Him: Ok Mammie.
Me: so where are you from? Where are your parents?
Him: my parents are both dead from when I was small. I don’t have any family, Mammie. My heart is sore.
Me: so where do you stay, Given?
Him: I sleep in the field round the corner. I keep my things under that tree…
Me: sheesh, you must get so cold at night… What is the thing you would really like or need at the moment to keep you warm?
Him: a blanket.
Me: ok, well I will see what I can do.don’t worry, we will be your family!
…. Oh, gotta go – green light … Byeeee
Given’s genuine sadness stuck with me that whole day. I’m sure he had been given loads of blankets and food and jerseys – but I couldn’t wait to get to a shop to get him one…
And then the tricky question of what kind of blanket I should get him? A happy bright fluffy one (will it be warm enough, will it be more of a target to get stolen)? A scratchy but hardy one (remind me of prison issue ones you see at Robben Island)? I settle on something in between. And then maybe a jacket. Don’t know where he is going to keep it but its sub-zero this week and he really is just a teenager without parents…
Don’t get me wrong. I know I’m not changing the world – let alone a life! – by buying him a blanket … Its NOT about the blanket! And even though this kind of ‘giving’ might help in a temporary way, it’s not the point of the story. The point is that Given has become a part of my daily life now that I’ve opened a door (or a window) to that awkward exchange between two insanely different lives and worlds. Some mornings I pray that the traffic light is green so I don’t have to stop because Given now knows my car and will always come running towards me. The thing is, he has never asked me for money since we started talking… But conversation just sometimes feels hard and fickle. What do we have a conversation about? “Oh, I went to a food and wine festival and stayed over at a game lodge this weekend… What did you do…?” Type of thing…
But all that said, Given’s smiling face brings daily perspective to me, even when I really feel like diverting my commute so I can avoid conversation because I have a face like thunder because some jerk tried overtaking me or my noisy neighbour woke me up before my alarm was set to go off or because I’m stressed and/or late. And then when I see him I am reminded of all the things I should be grateful for (but most often I’m not) – including this strange daily interaction … Something so simple and subtle and so deeply spirited… ! It helps me ‘get over myself’. Not all the time, of course, because sometimes it takes a lot more than that for me to get over myself! 😉 , but many a time it does! And really not in a guilt ridden way – just a simple, even superficial, human exchange.
Anyway, back to the blanket. The day after I bought it I couldn’t wait to give it to him because honestly I felt cold even just looking at him! I pulled over at the traffic light (trying to ignore the people hooting at me) and called him over. It was pure and total joy in his face when he saw the blanket and the jacket… I felt in that moment a truth I have seen (and even been judgmental of) in others in the past: I felt as if someone had just given me a gift … The blessing was all mine in that moment. So aware of these thoughts in my head, the pathetic self-satisfaction in my giving – yet seeing Given’s absolute sincere disbelief and delight I truly felt like my heart was bursting with its own joy!
But the cars were hooting and I had to drive off. It just so happened that that particular night was just freezing flipping cold. The next morning I was grateful that the traffic light was red so that i could ask him how if he had been warm enough? He saw me coming and almost got hit by a few cars running towards me to tell me how amazing this blanket was and how he has slept like a baby…
Him: Mammie, it was so warm. It was like heaven.
Me: I’m so glad for you…
Him: I’m sooooooo happy, Mammie
Me: no you’re not.
Me: you’re not happy, you’re Given!
Us both: bwahahahahahahahaha!
Me: ok, light’s green, gotta go….!
That was a sweet, sweet moment that is still fresh each time it plays over in my mind !!!!
For those of you who live in Pretoria – just wanted to let you know that Given turns 20years old today (11th July). If any of you feel compelled to be something of a family to him as bless him on his birthday, he will be found at ‘his’ traffic lights on the corner of Garsfontein and January Masilela (Gen Louis Botha) from about 7:30-10:30am!