Monday, June 22, 2009

the good samaritan

I've been a mess of tears today.

My blogging cousins, Lisa and Anne Marie, both wrote the most beautiful tributes to their fathers on their blogs today. And since I love both of these men dearly - I was positively verklempt.

As I was reading Lisa's blog about my Uncle Bill, I was reminded of a story I had almost completely forgotten. When Lisa was 16-years old, she received a speeding ticket and had to go to court. Uncle Bill went with her - because he always did whatever he could to help support his children. Or nieces and nephews. Or whomever happened to be lucky enough to be considered a friend to this great man. Borrowing directly from Lisa's post:
As we waited in the court room, there was a young man standing in front of the judge who was in trouble for something pretty minor ... I can't even remember what it was now. The young man was visibly shaking. The judge asked him some questions and then charged him a fine that he could not pay. The judge then gave this young guy jail time because he had NO money.

When my father heard this, he jumped up form his seat and said, "What? You're sending this young kid to jail because he is down on his luck?" The judge asked, "Who are you?" And then she asked the kid, "Do you know this man?"

He said, "No..."

My father was told to sit down. He told the court he would not. He couldn't sit there and listen to the judge send this young man to jail for something so minor and asked how much he owed the court. He also asked if the fine was paid would the young man be free to go? (I can't remember the price of the fine now, but I remember the shaking kid ... I know he was all alone ... and I know he couldn't believe what he was hearing.)

I remember my father approaching the judge and asking if he could stand with this young man and represent him. The kid told my father he could not repay him and my father said he didn't want the money back. I remember my father saying, "I don't care about the money. I have it and I want to pay your fine. I just don't see this happening." He told the kid he wanted him to get in to school and make something out of himself and give "it" back to someone else ... when he could.

Now that I think of it ... he was paying it forward ... way before it was popular.
What Lisa forgot to mention in her post is that once Uncle Bill paid this young man's fine, he didn't have enough for hers - so she was put in jail for two weeks.

(No. That didn't really happen. But I nearly cracked up just thinking of it!!)

Lisa's story is a perfect example of my Uncle Bill. He is an extraordinary man who genuinely cares about his fellow man. Whether he knows them or not.

This morning I called Child Protective Services in San Diego. They told me that based on my experience at the park yesterday, I did the right thing in contacting the police. But they too, couldn't understand why the police wouldn't have conducted a more depth investigation as to who this woman was and whether or not she and her son needed help.

So, I hung up from CPS and called the police department.

I spoke to the same dispatcher that I had spoken to yesterday morning. She told me that the police officer had responded to the park and had spoken with the woman. He gave her a warning and said that she needed to get up and watch her child. Then, he left.

When I told her that the woman had laid back down and fallen asleep as soon as he pulled out of the parking lot, she sounded surprised - and sad. She said that what I should have done, is called the police back. Which I didn't do. But in hindsight, I really wish I had.

I also really wish that I had spoken to the woman.

I wish that I had asked her if she was OK and if she needed any help. I wonder if I had spoken with her, mother to mother, woman to woman, if she might have told me what was going on? Perhaps she had just driven all the way to San Diego from Canada. Perhaps she was down on her luck and needed some food. Or, maybe I could have provided her directions to the nearest shelter?

Going forward, if I'm ever in a similar situation again, I will call the police. But, I will also summon whatever courage I can to talk with the person and tell them that I don't see "this" happening. I will tell them that I am worried about them, and their child. And I will not leave until the issue is resolved, even if that means I have to summon the police two or more times.

I never should have walked away yesterday. As soon as I saw it, I was involved. So I should have stayed there and called the police again and I should have talked to the woman and done whatever I could to help her and Joshua.

I should have done more.

Not just because that would have been the right thing to do, but because that's what my Uncle Bill would have done.


  1. I'm so glad you followed up with this post. I wanted to say earlier that I would have called back the cops, or would have talked to the woman myself, but how do I say that without coming off as a judgmental know-it-all?

    I don't know, but I CAN say that so many would not have noticed, would not have SEEN what was happening with that little boy, or would have simply turned away KNOWING that something needed to be done. Be at peace with the knowledge that you did something.

    And you never know - that "something" might actually be the spark that changes things for them forever.

  2. That's a great story about your Uncle Bill--what a kindness towards that young boy, a stranger. And what an example to his daughter!

    I know what you mean about the emotion of reading the two tributes to your relatives. It is very moving to remember. I wrote of my Dad this father's day and I have been a bucket of tears ever since--I think it is good for us to remember and to take the time to be thankful for these fine people who played roles in our lives!

  3. It took courage to do what you did in the first place. It would have taken some AMAZING courage to actually go up to a stranger to confront them. Don't beat yourself up, you did more than many (and probably myself) would have done.

    Your Uncle sounds like a great man as a father, uncle, and mentor. I wonder if the kid followed through with your uncle's request.

  4. You're Uncle Bill sounds like an amazing man. I applaud you for trying to be more like him.

  5. Don't be too hard on yourself -- you did a lot in that situation. The cop who gave a 'warning' and left should be the one second-guessing himself. Plus, your post got a lot of us thinking about how we would handle that sort of thing. Thanks for that!

  6. Michelle M in TX6/23/09, 8:29 AM

    Uncle Bill is the bomb! I'm wondering if you go back to that park today if you might not find Joshua and his mother there again. Don't beat yourself up. It's hard to know what the right thing to do is. Good luck!

  7. Beautiful post Jen. and Lisa just sit up and pay attention here.....We have to STOP this. (sniff) We need to get these posts back to potty training, home schooling and CHOCOLATE before I have a nervous breakdown!! LOL

    Seriously, beautiful's true too...Uncle Bill is one of the kindest people I have ever known. You just gotta love that man!


  8. Hi Jen,
    You are an amazing woman that you got involved at all. Since you are still thinking about it and feeling that you should have done more possibly you can go back to the same park today and see if they are there again. Possibly this will be your second chance to get more involved and help again. You never know, they may still be there. God bless you as you did make a difference.

  9. What a wonderful person your uncle is! I love paying it forward!

  10. You so honor your uncle by your actions! It's agonizing to stand up and face someone who could be potentially angry, but it's in your DNA, you know!

    Great posts on the Dad's, too. Very touching.

  11. How is it that you aren't living right next door to Anne Marie?? All that yummy baked goodness got me thinking of what to bake today.
    Thanks for sharing. I really enjoyed reading their blogs.

  12. WoW! Wow! and Wow again!

    "What Lisa forgot to mention..." that cracked me up too! Hahaha :-)

    You so right! He is always teaching us to get have learned your lesson well.
    I know he is proud of you and he loves you.

    Thank you for putting this on your blog it really is a beautiful post.

    AND most importantly;

    I am sure you have a lot of people watching out for Joshua. Who knows you may get another crack at it or one of your readers will pick up where you left off.

    It's all good Jen all good.


  13. Awwwwww, Jen. I just love your Uncle Bill. What a wonderful man.

    Jen, you shouldn't be so hard on yourself though. I will tell you what a policeman told me once, "It's not against the law to be homeless."

    It's against the law to loiter, defecate in public, do drugs, drink in the park, etc. But if the child was reasonably dressed and fed, and not in imminent danger, it's not necessarily neglect. That park could have been like his backyard.

    We went downtown yesterday to a museum in the heart of the homeless camp cities and the look of the homeless has totally changed since this recession started. Wow. I was shocked and I'm going to write about it tomorrow. The people don't even have the look of the "career bums" anymore. They look like totally normal people who have no homes.

    Of course we don't know for certain that she was homeless, but I think you did what you could. You are a good person, Jen. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

  14. Ah. Thanks again Jen. As you know this story is only one of many. I remember when one of his employees, Johnny Tolison, came into the office with an absessed tooth one day. Johnny couldn't afford to pay the dental fee to have his tooth extracted; SO my father drove him to the dentist and paid the fee. Then my Dad took him home and told Johnny to rest for a few hours and get back to work. ;-)

    Don't be so hard on yourself. You did the right thing. It was the police officer and the system that has failed that poor woman and her child Joshua. Not you. Your an incredible woman and we are all very proud of you and all that you have done for cancer research as well as other issues that are close to your heart. Thank you for being who you are.

    Anyway, I need a pick-me-up. You better mail those PB cups. Or put a call into Anne Marie to bake something for me. I need chocolate!! (like yesterday) ;-)
    Love, Marg

  15. One more thing, the incident that Lisa referenced in her blog. The judge was so impressed that he made a few contacts... My Dad actually got recognized as Business Man of the Year from the Office of the President of the United States.

    As modest as he is though - he thanked them but did not accept. True. ;-) Marg.

  16. You named your blog correctly, your amazing. That truly is the first time I have heard that story, I have lived with the man for 56 years, and no one ever mentioned that one. Probably because I was making my Carolina Cake, and Lisa was licking the bowl.
    I really do pick winners!

  17. I have been wondering what or who was in the carriage that that lady was lying under? Was it for the 5 year old child?
    When you know better, you will do better, so do not beat yourself up.

  18. Jen, don't beat yourself up. Yes you could have possibly called the police again but I think the same thing would have happened. You did the best you could at the time considering you have 4 little ones to attend to which is a handful even with Charlie's help.

  19. Love the honesty in your posts Jen. I read one of the comments that said 'it's hard to know what to do right at the time' and I totally agree with them. I know what I think I would do but that isn't always what I would do in reality. Life is a learning experience.

    And Uncle Bill... everyone should be so lucky to have an example like that in their life! Thanks for sharing him with us!

  20. Some have spoke of homelessness. It's not going to change the world or anything, but there is a little thing you can do very often: Hand a homeless person food. Simple as that. I did that several times a week when I worked downtown, usually cutting from my parking space through a grocer and buying apples that I handed out on the other side of the door. Who would say no to an apple? Another idea: bagel shops often give out 2 for 1's near the end of the day to clear things out---I'd have my bagel treat and hand the spare to a homeless person. And when I had left-over food from a restaurant that hadn't been touched, I had it packed up in a to-go box and gave that out. Obviously, I worked downtown. But anyone can do this when they pass through a similar area in their car---I once stopped at a stoplight and handed an entire Costco apple pie to one homeless guy with a handful of plastic forks, and he practically ran away with it. I wonder who he was bringing it to? Those people at stoplights with "Will work for food" signs...keep bottled water or other non-perishables in your car and hand them out the window. I see it done all the time and do it myself. Bottled water truck drivers and Pepsi delivery truck drivers are common giver-outers, at least in my experience. And finally, every single time you go to the grocery store, buy one can of vegetables to stick in your cupboard. You can donate it your stockpile any time of the year (Father Joe Carroll says they lack such donations during non-holiday seasons) or you can save it for those convenient collection bins that go up in every store during the holiday season. I let my boys pick out the veggie can. We chose the Fourth of July as our donation day last year. Seemed a great way to thank our country for making it possible for so many of us to have full cupboards.