Our Friends Under the Bridge
“Do they belong to us?” It sounds like an odd question, but not to a three year old trying to make sense of why the folks living under the bridge have no where to go. My youngest daughter, Emma Leigh, and I had taken a day trip to New Orleans, some 85 miles from where we were living at the time. It was a couple of years after Hurricane Katrina had ravaged the city. And, although many groups had made life a little more bearable for the masses of homeless who call New Orleans home, the underpasses of Interstate 10 are still filled with those who have no other place to go. One part, in particular, is prolific with those living in such conditions. It is the Canal Street exit, and as soon as you turn off of the interstate you stop at a traffic light and one either side, behind and in front of you are those living in a makeshift tent city.
I noticed the people and was surprised by the number. Emma Leigh saw them, too. Emma Leigh was three years old at the time and though she was still a baby in so many ways, she had the vocabulary of a child so much older, largely due to older sisters who included her in almost every make believe world they created. I adjusted my rear view mirror to watch her eyes. That is when she asked, “Daddy, who are they?” I explained that the men and women under the bridge didn’t have homes and that they were living the best way they knew. It was then that Emma Leigh stunned me. “Why don’t their mommies and daddies come get them?” she asked. In her little world, everyone has mommies and daddies who take care of their children. I wondered how many of them had wished the same thing.
I explained to Emma Leigh that many of them didn’t have family any more or that they couldn’t get in touch with their family or that their family was mad at them or them at their families. I could tell in her eyes that this did not make sense. All she knew was a family who loved her very much and who would go anywhere to take care of her and make sure that she was okay. In fact, only a few weeks prior to that trip, she had called me at the office and had been tired and upset. “Can you come get me, Daddy” she said. “Of course, I can” I replied. When she needed her daddy, he showed up. That is what daddies, and mommies, and families do. Of course, she had a whole host of folks who would respond. If, for some reason, she couldn’t have gotten me, she would have gotten her grandmothers or aunt.
But, to have no one did not compute and I could tell that she did not know what to do with it. After a few minutes, she replied. “That’s okay,” she said. “They can go live with their friends”. Once again, in her world, friends took care of each other. And, then, as though she was ready for what my answer might be there, she replied, “or call their church.” Now, it was getting personal, and painful, and I knew that at some point, this three year old would make too much sense even for this situation.
Again, I tried to explain, that their situations were difficult and that they may not have friends who could or would help. That didn’t seem to settle well with her either. She sat there for a second. I kept wondering why the traffic light was taking so long. Finally, I, feeling the need to say something, blurted out, “They just don’t belong to anyone, sweetheart.”
It was at that moment that my three-year-old daughter got the best of me. She was only three, but it was enough. Jesus’ direction to his disciples that they should approach the Father as a child, meant something in that moment, and I, for one, confronted it first hand.
“Don’t they belong to us, Daddy?” she finally responded. This was my 3 year old daughter's way of asking, aren’t we their friends? She didn’t say anything else. She didn’t need to. Her point hit home and reminded me that what unites us is so much deeper than what we allow to divide us… Allow being the key word.
And, my three year old, reminded me that all of us are yoked together by the sheer essence of being the children of God. It didn’t matter what our skin color was, where we were born, how much we had attended Church, or how much we knew about our Bibles. We are all yoked together, first, by the fact that we are all God’s children, and, second, by the fact that God’s children don’t get to pick their brothers and sisters.
Be Salt and Light… You Matter…