As I was leaving work today, I saw one of Little Rock’s semi-famous homeless men. He’s one of the few recognizable faces of a community that remains mostly invisible to most of us. Years ago, someone who seemed to know about such things told me he’s got family. Actually, he’s from a good family. He was legitimately diagnosed some time ago with mental illness. His broken mind won’t let him go home. For a time, according to the tale I was told, his family would try to have him committed, but as he posed no physical danger to himself or others, it didn’t stick. Now, they keep up with his routes, bring him supplies and offer him shelter when he will take it.
I have no idea if this is true in part or in whole. I kind of want it to be true. I want to believe that family never gives up on anyone, no matter what. I guess because I’ve been thinking a lot about family lately. Some of my kin have been in and out over the past couple of weeks. It’s been wonderful to have them here. My sweet 15-year-old cousin is asking hard questions: the kind of hard questions 15-year-old girls ask themselves. Who should I let in my life? Under what conditions? What am I required to accept from family? What am I morally allowed to reject? Where do I draw those lines? Who gets to be inside the chalk? Who doesn’t? What is required just because we share DNA? I’ve been asking myself those same questions since I was about her age. I still don’t know all the answers.
While she was here, we received word of a death. It’s close enough for us to feel sad, but far enough away not to be overly personal. I was telling my cousin about what happened. A dear friend’s father passed away. He was married to a lovely woman for more than four decades. They raised two kids into fine adults who contribute to their communities. We both sat there quietly for a long time.
She spoke first, “Some people really do it, don’t they? They really spend their whole lives together, and it’s good.” I thought of all the broken relationships both of us have seen. “Yes,” I told her. “Some people do. It really does happen.”
We went on to talk about boys, prom dresses, dance team, college and all the other things that fill her days. Since I didn’t have much in the way of wisdom for some things she wanted to know, I told her the things I know to be true:
- Be kind to your siblings. (You need them more than you know.)
- Don’t take drugs.
- Keep your pants on.
- Google is forever.