Our external stories can highlight any areas and issues of contradiction from our known selves, ie the versions of our self we’re comfortable with and show other people. By choosing to behave in a certain way, for example, we can change our attitudes to something.
Peter thought of himself as a brave person and spoke scathingly about ‘life’s cowards’, including homeless people . . . Until the day he faced one of those ‘cowardly’ homeless people, a woman bundled in blankets and plastic bags. As he opened his mouth to hurl his usual question, “Why don’t you get a job?”, a flare of reflection on his sunglasses made him hesitate and look towards the distant origin of the reflection. Not seeing anything, he turned back to the homeless woman, opened his mouth, and noticed the front of her bundle of blankets and plastic bags was moving.
Then he heard the cry. A tiny, pathetic cry. A newborn’s cry.
The woman was a new mother!
Anger fired up in him at her irresponsibility to bring a child into the world without being able to care for it.
He opened his mouth to spew his anger at her.
She, oblivious to the well-dressed man standing in front of her, smiled as she uncovered her baby’s head from the blankets, kissed the rosy cheeks, inched her well-worn shirt up her thin chest, and allowed her baby to feed.
She smiled at her baby’s determined suckling. Her baby was her world.
Peter had never seen his wife look at their healthy, well-fed, spoilt children like that. Ever.
For the first time in as long as he could remember, Peter swallowed his anger, and edged away.
As he did, he really looked at the woman and her surroundings. Her clothes were worn but not dirty. Her skin was clean. Scrubbed. Her hair was combed. Even her blankets looked to be quality material that had served its purpose for a longer time than manufactured for.
She had chosen her spot well, out of the bulleting wind between the high rises, on the highest point of the potholed laneway. Behind her was a sturdy-looking cardboard tent, held in place by a creative use of pallets; her belongings in an orderly pile inside. Bedding had been rolled away. He glimpsed cans in a shopping bag, and some basic toiletries in a plastic bag. Everything was neat, clean and smelled of something sweet.
This woman wasn’t a coward; she was tougher than him.
She was a freaking Titan in life.
Peter behaved differently in this situation—coming across a person he would normally consider one of ‘life’s cowards’—and that change in his behaviour forced a change in his attitude to homeless people, and also increased his awareness of what true parental love and responsibility meant.