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The Reason I Never Forgot Eddie Pee Pants

On a beautiful spring day several weeks ago, my kids and I were heading to lunch a few blocks from my husband’s office on the crowded streets of Washington D.C .  Dressed in only shorts and t-shirts, we didn’t really fit in with the men and women in business attire who were walking with a great deal more purpose.

But we had one thing in common:  we all pretended we didn’t  see the homeless person still wrapped in a blanket and sleeping in a doorway on a busy sidewalk.

I saw both of my kids glance over at him, but neither said anything. I didn’t either.  Soon, the homeless person was forgotten.

Almost.

Because somewhere in the back of my mind, he stayed with me.

He’s still there.

It’s not that I’ve never seen homeless people before. I see them every day.  I even have a semi-relationship with the guy who hangs out at the park where I walk my dog.  If I don’t at least wave at him, he coughs or makes some other noise until I acknowledge him.

But the homeless guy sleeping on the steps was different, because he might as well have been invisible.  Everyone, including me, blatantly ignored his existence.

I understand why the business people ignored him:  they probably see him everyday. He’s as much a part of their daily landscape as the traffic lights, the street signs and the blur of faces they regularly encounter.

But I didn’t have any excuse, and I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t even talk to my kids about him. That’s just not like me at all.  If anything, I usually talk way too much about such things.

The only explanation I could find is one I don’t like:  I was going along with the crowd.  It was just easier.

It’s not the first time I’ve had to make that admission.

When I was in elementary school, I didn’t even know the full name of the boy who rode the school bus.  I just knew everyone called him Eddie Pee Pants.  You don’t need to be a genius to figure out how he got the name.

I don’t remember calling him that to his face, but that’s the name I used when my peers and I were discussing how to avoid him.  No one wanted to have to sit with Eddie Pee Pants on the bus. If you did, you’d not only have to smell him, but you would get “Eddie Pee Pants germs.”

I knew what we were doing was wrong, but I justified my behavior by telling myself that I was never actually mean to his face.  But the guilt got worse when Eddie’s life got worse.

One Saturday morning, I joined my dad at the top of our driveway to watch the  drama unfold on a hill about a mile from our house.  A dilapidated mobile home was on fire.  Flames were shooting out the roof, and smoke was turning the sky black.

“That’s a total loss,” my dad commented.

I didn’t know until Monday that the old, junky trailor everyone said was an eyesore was Eddie’s house.

I have no recollection of what happened to him after his house burned. I just know he never rode the bus again, and I don’t remember ever seeing him at school again.  I don’t even remember if there were any injuries or fatalities in that fire.

What I do remember is wondering why I wasn’t nicer to Eddie and feeling horrible that I’d never have an opportunity to undo my misdeeds.

Eddie isn’t the only person I’ve ever discounted or belittled. But he’s the first person who taught me three essential life lessons:

1.  Treating someone poorly never makes you feel better about yourself.

2.  Sometimes you don’t get a second chance to do the right thing.

3.  Issues such as poverty, child abuse and homelessness are actually about individuals — people who, regardless of the reason for their circumstances, still have value.

I’ve taken that third lesson to heart.  Eddie, like the homeless person in the doorway, gave me something priceless. They taught me to look beyond the unkempt appearances, poor hygiene  or odd behavior. They’ve taught me that sometimes the person who needs to change their attitude or perception is me. And they’ve taught me that speaking up feels a lot better than putting someone down.

They were priceless gifts in my life, and I hope I can pass their lessons on to my children. And that, if nothing else, is what makes their lives so valuable to me.