I was proud and ashamed and mostly confused. Nikola brought Peatuk home from school late the other day. As Peatuk ran off into the living room to play, Nikola took me aside and told me that we have a wonderful, sweet son.
They were in the parking lot of the grocery store when a little boy, maybe 8 years old, came up to them to ask for money. It is a common occurrence here. Usually they are Roma kids and most of the time we casually say no and go about our business. This time Peatuk asked Nikola, “But dad, why can’t we share our money with that little boy?”
This is the sweetest little boy ever, with clear blue eyes that gaze up at you and he just wants to make sense of the world around him. When these kids come up to us and ask for money, all Peatuk wants to do is play with them. Run off into the parking lot and ride bikes or play house or whatever is in his imaginative little mind. He doesn’t understand politics and capitalism and poverty. He understands love and kindness and playing. He understands sharing. He loves to share.
It made Nikola take pause. When they came out of the store and the little boy was there, Nikola and Peatuk offered to buy him food. The little boy declined. Nikola did not give him any money and brought Peatuk home to tell me the story.
I am sure he thought it would be heart melting when he told it to me. I am not sure that he knew it would also be soul crushing.
I had a flash of helplessness against a big bad and unfair world. That moment when you look at it and you see so much wrong and you wonder what you can do. And you know that nothing you do has any lasting affect. And you wonder why you brought a kid into such a messy, problematic place. And you wonder if you are evil for not giving your own money to a stranger.
The next day I was at a coffee shop. Here, you get a little fortune with your coffee. Mine was a quote about comparing ourselves to others and how it is the act of comparing that brings unhappiness into our lives. I thought about it and realized it was true. I had always thought it was true, but had only thought about comparing myself to others who have more. I see the things they have and I want them and so I find myself lacking and unhappy. But I hadn’t realized how comparing myself to those who have less than me also makes me unhappy.
I feel guilty for what I have. A two-bedroom apartment stuffed with toys and clothes and food. Heat for the winter. A family that is bonkers with love for each other. Yes, Peatuk, you are right, why can’t we share our money with that little boy? I am so angry that he doesn’t seem to have what we have. And I am ashamed that I have it. And I feel completely helpless to change anything. Because, really, what is a lev going to do? Or a hundred lev? Or a thousand? It doesn’t make a dent in poverty and racism. How do I explain that to my kind, trusting, loving, giving son?