Abigail Wilt

I've never forgotten what she said.

When I was 10 years old, my family owned a beaten-up mini van. My dad was a pastor, so money was a little tight, but my parents have always been financially savvy, so, as kids, we never really knew. But, consistently, our van needed fixing.

One day, my mom and I were driving home, and had pulled into a motel parking lot – I remember distinctly that there was a faux aluminum rocket in the front yard – for her to check something. I was in the front seat. A homeless man that had been sitting on the curb came up to her window and knocked. Me, not really ever having a homeless man knock on the window of my car before, felt a little uneasy – even moreso when my mom rolled down the window. The man told my mom that he'd recently been given custody of his grandson after a death in the family, but he was homeless. He was hoping for a few dollars to feed himself and the child. My mom handed him a bill, he thanked her, and we left.

As a very curious 10 year old, I had some questions for her. Namely – we'd just been talking about our van needing fixing. Didn't we need that money ourselves? Why are we handing out bills? I asked her about it, and I've never, ever forgotten my mom's response. "I'm glad you asked," she said matter-of-factly. "I gave it to him because you never know when you're talking to an angel."

My mom is a fierce woman who protects her family, often times putting herself last in buying new things so her kids were provided for. My mother taught me a lesson that day that I will never forget. No, I don't believe all homeless people are angels; that wasn't the lesson she was teaching me. She was teaching me the importance of being generous, even when you don't have much to give. This is only one example of how my mom instilled in each of her children the importance of both kindness and generosity, and how these two tools can be used to humanize people – even those who may be ostracized from society. I think of this story whenever I'm asked for money, and I'm reminded of how quick my mom was to help someone in need.

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Southern culture highlights generosity and kindness through neighborly actions and –heavens!–even the way we throw church potlucks shows off our sense of community. We are taught the importance of sharing what we have and coming to the aid of anyone around us who's in need; relief efforts after distatrous tornados, hurricanes, and storms have demonstrated this repeatedly. My mom taught me to give what I can, to who I can, regardless of circumstances in my own life. It's a powerful sentiment that I will be sharing with my kids one day, as well.