View Full Version : A Different Light

Sep 1, 2010, 10:16 AM
A Different Light

Author Unknown

When I was seven years old, my mother first took me to visit the Ben Franklin Institute, a wonderfully child-centered science museum in the heart of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I adored that building, and relished every single trip we took there. As with every other subsequent visit, we rode the elevated train (the "El") from the main bus depot to a street two blocks from the museum. From there, we walked, hand in hand, the rest of the way. It was on that walk and others that I began to realize how different lives could be from my own. I also began to learn that my mother was a human being, just like me or anyone else, not a perfect, all-wise caregiver.

On that first visit to the Institute, during the walk back towards the El, we happened to see what I can only assume was a homeless man on the sidewalk. He sat, wearing ragged and dirty clothes, holding a cup in his gloved hand. Just as we passed, I heard him say, "Have any change?" I looked right at his face for a moment, but his gaze did not meet mine. He was looking upward to my mother. I felt her squeeze my hand, and I turned my head to face her. She was looking straight ahead, neither at him nor at me. Not a word was said as we continued to walk, never even slowing down. For the rest of the trip back home, I didn't say anything, but I continued to cast confused glances at my mother's face.

The rest of the day exists as a haze in my memory, but I recall very specifically that I cried myself to sleep that night. I had never mentioned the man to my mother after returning home, and of course she did not bring it up, but I knew on some level that something was wrong with the whole situation. Being only seven at the time, I couldn't have explained exactly why I was sad enough to cry. Was I sad that the man was homeless? Or because my mother acted as if he wasn't there? Whatever the case, I knew then that people shouldn't be living on the street, begging for change… and that the people that are shouldn't be ignored as if they didn't exist.

A few days after that first trip, I found the courage to ask my mother about it during dinner. I'll never forget that conversation. "Why didn't you give that man some change, mom?"
She froze for just a moment, and a stern expression flashed across her face; in a moment, it was gone. "He didn't need it. He probably makes more money than me. People like that just don't want to work for a living."
People like what? I thought to myself. "But… I don't think he has somewhere to live." With that one statement I was practically begging her to reassure me that everything was alright, that everything as the way it was supposed to be. I tried to keep myself from crying again.
"He's lazy. Once you help people like that, they expect you to help them all the time. Don't think about him anymore."
The contempt building in her voice was obvious to me, even at that age. I didn't want to face it, but I started to feel betrayed by her. Through sobs I said, "But you're supposed to help people! You're supposed to!"
Finally her expression softened, and she picked me up and sat me in her lap, hugging me to her, telling me to calm down. I didn't listen. I kept crying. My mother wasn't the person she had been… or rather, the person I had imagined her to be.

I've since learned that being a mother doesn't mean that you have special powers… it doesn't mean that you always do the right thing… it doesn't mean that you automatically have the best morals. Mothers are not chosen to be mothers based on their strength or ethics or character. Mothers aren't chosen at all. They are simply human beings that attempt to raise children according to their own beliefs. It is for that reason that I can forgive my mother for how she acted that day at the museum. I don't agree with her, and I pity her in many ways… but I forgive her.

I don't share my mother's beliefs or her view of the world. Someday my children may very well say the same about me.


I had my students read this today as an introduction to Socratic Seminar. One of the assignments is for them to come up with 2 questions after they read this story. I would love to see the questions you guys come up with. Please post them here. After a few responses have been posted, I will share some of the questions from my kids.

Sep 6, 2010, 12:50 AM
My first question: If the author were his mother, how would he treat the homeless man?

The second question: Cô Tu-An, are you in unison with the way the mother treated the homeless man?

May I have the third one?

The third one ... Oh no ... The third one is above. This is the fourth one: Will I have your answers for my questions, cô Tu-An?

Apr 4, 2011, 01:50 AM
A Different Light

Write down the answers given by the speakers that interested you the most, that you agreed with, or that caused you to think about the topic in a new way. You should have at least three answers per question. Complete sentences are not necessary.

What is the main moral conflict in this piece, and who is it between?

Which of the two conflicting personalities do you more closely agree with? Why?

If you were the mother in the piece, how would you have responded to the child's comments?

If you were the child in the piece, how would you have responded to the mother's comments?

If you were raising your own child, would you say that having that child see a homeless person for the first time would be a good thing or a bad thing? Why?

Do you believe that the mother has learned something from the child, and if so what, and if not, why not?

What would the homeless man say to the mother, if he knew how she thought of him?

Apr 5, 2011, 12:05 AM
I don't know if this is relevant but this touches me ... somehow. I can't quite put a finger on it. Being homeless is not a crime; however, panhandling is, in some places. I have worked downtown Philadelphia PA. The place where I worked was right across the street from a homeless shelter. I had seen homeless people accepted food, then later on sold them for money to buy drug. I had driven Delaware Ave and seen a homeless man begging for money at the corner on the train track. When inquired about him, I was told by my co-workers that he has been standing there through all seasons for at least 10 years. I have heard from VietNam that people purposely crippled children so they can "generate" more money from begging.
I'm not saying that we shouldn't help that homeless man begging for change. I think that we should; however, the question is "how?" How do we "help" that the help is effective? There's an old saying "Give a man a fish, you've fed him dinner. Teach a man how to fish, you've fed him for life." But what if the man doesn't want to be taught how to fish? What kind of help is considered "real help"? So we don't give them money, we give them food. Well, food can be traded for money also. I've seen that first hand. The technician at the shop spent $3 for at least $15 worth of canned food, of course, sold by the homeless across the street. Is it possible for a man to be begging at the same corner for 10 years? especially when at the same corner, there's a McDonald's with a sign "help wanted". Do the people who crippled children for the purpose of begging deserve our help? And if we do, how much of it will trickle down to the crippled children? But if we don't, what will happen to the crippled children? Worse yet, would our help encourage people crippling more children to be used for begging?
At times, I feel like the mother in this story. At other times, I feel like the child in this story. I don't want to help when I see my help is not going to be effective. At the same time, there's a tug in my soul asking me how I can ignore people's suffering. The same questions have haunted me for years throughout my entire life. Should we help? Shouldn't we help? How do we help? Why do we help? What help is considered proper and appropriate? What help is considered necessary? Can we go on ignoring that homeless beggar? I did find myself turning the other way several times when driving across that corner. I also found myself staring straight at the man at times asking those obvious questions. I still don't have the answers. I haven't found the answers, hence the questions continue to taunt me. Meanwhile, while pondering, I do nothing... nothing of significance anyway. That, too, creates a guilt in me that has become unbearable at times.
I was going to attempt to answer the questions from co Tu-An; however, most of my answers would be "I don't know." because I really don't know. I do know that exposing a child to this dilema is not a bad thing. It starts him/her to think, to feel, to form an opinion, and possibly to find a solution to help when s/he grows up. Compassion is a necessary part of a human soul. Logical reasoning is a necessary part of the mind. The struggle between conflicts is an inevitable part of life.