Parent Blog: Living with teens
By: Queue Murphy
One day after cleaning up at a community event, a pastor asked me if I wouldn’t mind driving a man to a nearby homeless shelter. He had wandered into the church out of the rain and wanted a ride to Ann Arbor – one of the better homeless shelters in the area. I looked at the man behind him, he stared straight ahead and every now and then his eyes would dart back and forth. He had a bandana on, jeans and a loose flannel shirt. The pastor introduced him as Michael. I told the Pastor I would check with my family, if they agreed we would take him together, it would be OK. I asked Michael if he wanted some lunch. He looked at me, nodded and began to follow me, as if in a trance. As we headed through a very public area to the nearby restaurant where I was going to meet my husband and younger kids for lunch, I tried to talk to Michael to get some more information about him. He would mumble in response, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying.
Now I wouldn’t recommend that anyone take a stranger into their car to drive to a shelter. I would not have done it alone, and if my husband had reservations after we all sat down to eat in a public restaurant, we wouldn’t have done it either. The man was obviously mentally ill and I made sure I stayed in very crowded public areas at all times.
We sat down with my family at the restaurant and my 12-year-old, who usually vocally complains through our meals, stared at Michael. He kept trying to talk to him and obviously felt empathy. Every now and then Michael would speak in a way we could understand him, and then slip back into a trancelike state, sometimes scribbling things on a paper. My 9-year-old daughter drew him a picture on a napkin and gave it to him. He ate his meal when it came and seemed like he was trying to answer us as much as he could. We gathered food for him to take home and put it into a bag.
In the car, Michael sat in the front seat with my husband and I sat in the back with the kids. We drove him to Ann Arbor and dropped him off at a corner of homeless people playing instruments on a street corner. He said his thanks and slid out of the seat and rushed into a nearby coffee shop.
After he left the vehicle, the kids started talking about Michael, and others like him. It was a good teaching experience, and we reminded them of how lucky we all were. We also talked to the kids about staying safe if they were ever to help anyone. It was a life lesson for all of us and knowing how many Michaels are out there. Sometimes Michael comes back to our community on his wandering travels, and we always stop to talk to him and give him a bite to eat. As we drive, the kids will point out the homeless they see on the streets and discuss how we can help them – their ideas are simple, but on the right track. If we keep talking to each other and our kids about people with disabilities or mental illness, we can hope that the next generation helps to improve one of the biggest challenges out there. I only hope it made them better people.