A Helping Hand

Christmas is a season filled with a sense of purpose for gift-giving.  Citizens donate food and clothing, corporations give money to charities and those with little financial backing give of their time to ensure the less fortunate have a hot turkey dinner on the 25th of December.

Of all this, I’ve been there to witness the act of giving, and not just during the holiday season.

When I was first on the job my partner and I responded to a call of a domestic disturbance.  Neighbors called in to report the husband and wife in the next apartment were having a heck of a row with much throwing of dishes and audible crying.  The ruckus had calmed down by the time we got there and we found a man and woman sitting on the couch in deep conversation. Only the dried tears on both their faces and the pots and pans littering the kitchen floor gave a hint at the tension only then dissipating.

The couple were clearly upset about something and as we started to talk to them, two small children crept out of a near by bedroom and crawled into their parent’s laps.  Their big eyes and thumbs tucked firmly into mouths made my heart break a little, and it quickly became apparent that even though this family had very little, what they did have was looked after with love.  The children were well fed and clean in their hand-me-down clothes.  The apartment was neat and tidy, the floors were swept and the few pictures on the walls were of their family.

It wasn’t until the father, while clasping his wife’s hand and kissing the top of the head of the child in his lap, broke down in sobs that we knew this wasn’t a regular call.  His wife was able to tell us her husband had been laid off work, he had an injury preventing him from seeking different employment, and money for necessities had run out.   She held her husband’s hand tight in hers and pointed to a box on the table, telling us to look inside.

What we saw were five diapers.  When we looked back at her, the mother told us those were all the diapers they had left.  There was no more baby food, groceries, or change left to wash the few cloth diapers they had, and they still had to get though another seven days before they could apply for emergency funds through the Ministry.

My partner spent the next half and hour talking to the father, man to man, while the mother gave me a tour of their small apartment.  Indeed, it was obvious this couple lived for their children and made no excuses for their predicament.  The mother said her husband would have to stay home with the kids while she looked for work and this arrangement was what had led to their loud and vocal disagreement.  He did not think it right that he could not provide for his family.  She said they had no choice.  She either went to work or they would end up homeless.

By the time we left the small apartment a sense of calm had returned.  The father put his arm around his wife and kissed her cheek, saying he was okay with being Mr. Mom for a while.

Back in the patrol car my partner and I were silent.  Here was a family trying to make it, to provide for their children, to make an honest living against some pretty steep odds, and we were essentially helpless to do anything other than give them our temporary emotional support.  So when my partner pulled the car to a stop in front of a store and got out, I thought it was to take a minute so we could grab a coffee and debrief the call.

Without a word, my partner entered the store but instead of heading to the coffee bar he went into the aisles.  For the next few minutes I followed him around as he filled his shopping basket with baby food, diapers, wipes, coffee, and canned food.  My repeated questions as to what he was doing went unanswered, so I simply held out my arms to take the second box of diapers he pulled down off the shelf.  A lump formed in my throat because I knew exactly what he was up to.

Half an hour later, weighed down by boxes and bags of supplies, we were back at the family’s apartment.  The couple was shocked to see us and tried to refuse the items my partner placed on their table, but a shake of my partner’s head told them he was leaving everything for them. 

“This is not an act of charity,” my partner told them, “but an opportunity for you to make it through the next seven days.”

My partner expected them to find work, whatever type of job they could handle, and to continue to be the loving parents they so obviously were. 

The father, his eyes now dry, took my partner’s hand in both of his and issued a silent a thank you.  There was a subtle tilt to the man’s chin, one that read of confidence renewed.

For me?  My confidence was renewed as well, not because of what my fellow officers have to do, but for what they don’t have to and yet still do.

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