My husband and I attended a heartwarming documentary produced by Dallas artist and professor Willie Baronet called Signs of Humanity. This film chronicles the journey Willie took during the entire month of July 2014, between Seattle and New York (with twenty-four stops in between), to buy the cardboard signs of homeless people along the way and to ask them, “What does home mean to you?” Willie later assembled the 1,000+ signs he’d been collecting over the years, including during that trip, in an impressive traveling art exhibit to create awareness about the homeless in our country (learn more at signsofhumanity.org).
It was a special privilege to attend as Willie Baronet and his team were present for a Q&A after the showing, along with a young man from St. Louis named Eddie who was featured in the film and who, two years later, is now sober and no longer homeless. The documentary is truly a moving and important piece of work.
During the film, I couldn’t help but think about how I have responded in the past to the homeless when I encountered them. Of course we don’t see many people living on the streets of our lovely suburbs, but I have certainly been to cities where homeless people are prevalent and I, like Willie before he began his mission of buying cardboard signs, know I am guilty of looking away or (worse yet) deciding “those people” must have done something to get themselves into the situation they are in. I imagine, on a deep level, the fear inside of me about ever becoming homeless keeps me from engaging with fellow human beings. Through the documentary I now recognize this as ignorant and cowardly.
The film also made me think about my son, Allen-Michael, who works in St. Paul, Minnesota and often encounters homeless people, purposely, to buy them a meal and listen to their story. People like Willie and my son inspire me to become less judgmental and less fearful about those who’s circumstances I know nothing about…people just like you and I who, sometimes through no direct fault of their own, find themselves trying to survive on the streets.
I loved hearing some of the responses Willie received from his question “what does home mean to you?” including the following…Heaven. A place to shower and sleep and pay bills. Anywhere that is “safe.” And, my favorite, Home is anytime I hear my mother’s voice.
We have a choice as the year winds down and we gather with loved ones far and near, we can be grateful for the circumstances we live in (no matter what they are), or we can lament the shortcomings of ourselves, others, and the world. We don’t grow as individuals during the times in life that are easy…we build our character in those moments when we learn to do better, which is usually during a time when we’ve fallen.
Choose to look, choose to engage. Choose gratitude over condemnation, compassion over judgment, and above all else, choose love over fear.
May the coming year bring you much growth, because when you and I grow, so does all of humanity.
Kim Muench is a married mother of five children living in Flower Mound. A certified parenting coach, her passion lies in supporting and encouraging parents of adolescents. To read more of her work, or to learn about her parenting program, go to www.realifeparentguide.com.