Standing up

 

Unschooling is all about taking your children out into the world, and rather than telling them to sit back and be quiet, teaching them how to act in everyday (and not-so-everyday) situations.  For us, it’s also about thinking of others and learning to stand up and act.

Years ago, we met a man.  He gradually grew from acquaintance, to friend, to part of our everyday lives.

Rick changed us.  Becoming his friend started us on a journey that will most likely never end.

We all have a multitude of memories of Rick.  His politeness, his eagerness to share what he was reading that day, his gratitude.  His loneliness.

Near daily visits to Rick’s bench by either Matt or the girls and I was part of our routine for a couple of years.  We did what we could, but in looking back, I think he gave us far more, by what he taught us about love, compassion, patience, and service.  Not every lesson was easy.  But each was worth it.

Months ago, Matt went into work, and Rick was gone.  His bag was there, but he wasn’t.  After weeks of asking, calling, and driving around, it became evident he had died.  It had been so cold, and he was very old.

For months, we have planned on attending the vigil for the homeless who have died.  We’ve  attended in the past, but this particular year (2011), it meant more.  It was for our friend.

(Matt being interviewed after the vigil.)

I was more emotional than I had expected.  I truly wept as I said my good-byes to a man who changed us, and as I shivered in the cold, thinking of him and thousands of others on those benches night after cruel night.

I also wept for sorrow as a group of Occupy protesters attempted to completely destroy a solemn occasion.  The anger and absolutely despicable behavior of the protesters made my girls afraid and uncertain about what to do.  (No comments, please, about the Occupy protest here.  We all have differing feelings about it, but this post isn’t about that.  ”Time and place” is something I think we can all agree on here.)

My five-year-old cried and told me she wanted to leave because she didn’t want to be around people who would do and say things at a funeral like that.  My three oldest girls turned to me when she said that, to see what I would say.  I told them that by staying and showing respect in the face of ugliness, we set an example of what people should act like when they feel strongly about something.

I was so proud of them for how they acted next.

My little five-year-old said, “Okay, mom, I will,” and turned around and tried to stand still.  My seven-year-old said, “Right, I’ll be brave and stay, even if they are rude,” and tried to listen extra-hard to the mayor, who was being drowned out by profanities and slurs.  And my sweet eight-year old told me she would hold up her little candle as high as she could, and she did, for as long as she could stand to.  I was proud of them for doing their own little thing to stand for what they felt was right, even though the situation made them afraid.

Once things settled down a bit, and names were read, I cried again, and it felt like Rick knew we were there for him.  I found myself almost grateful for that one last lesson my girls could learn from knowing him.