Moving to Chicago has meant a lot of new things and changes for me. One of them mainly just being change of environment.
Growing up I was always taught to do unto others as you would like done unto you, to give back to my community and to help those less fortunate than I am in any way I can. In Kentucky, I can't say that I was exposed to any drastic lifestyles or people who were in extreme poverty very often. On my walk to class I would sometimes see a homeless man walking down the street or a someone on the corner of the street holding a sign asking for anything anyone could offer. I really wasn't exposed to it that much, until I traveled to Egypt in 2008. While what I witnessed there was far more extreme than what I've witnessed in the States, it definitely had me thinking about what the rest of the world looks like outside of my bubble of Kentucky and UK. Going back to high school and eventually college, I remembered the experiences I had in Egypt and would think back to them when I felt I wasn't being appreciative of what I had. Being pretty philanthropically involved in college I met people who struggled and helped with events and fundraising for those less fortunate - but it never came to be a part of my daily life.
Seeing people in dire need every single day has definitely put into perspective that I am so lucky and so fortunate - even when I feel like I'm not getting what I deserve or have a want that is completely unimaginable for someone who is on the street everyday asking for money to feed themselves. I guess my point in posting this is to share my perspective with you so that you can think about the world around you. We get up and go to work everyday and have the same routine, going about our day and probably sticking to the same 10 topics that surround our lifestyle when it comes to thinking or day dreaming. Not once do I think on daily basis, "Where is my next meal going to come from?" or "How can I tell my 6 year old daughter that we don't have anywhere to stay tonight because the shelter is full and I only managed to get $12 off the kind people that helped me."
From our own perspective, we all have problems, we all have complications that make life hard and to be honest, we are all selfish. We want to help ourselves before we help others and these past four months in Chicago have definitely changed that for me. I remember the first time I was approached on the street by a homeless person asking for money. Just to be completely transparent with y'all - I was scared. I was alone and had never been actually approached by someone like that. I've walked past many people who ask for money, but never had someone come directly up to me. When he asked for money I said I was sorry, but I didn't have anything that I could offer. I really didn't, but remember thinking to myself that I probably wouldn't have anyways. Why is that?
The homeless are often generalized into people who ask for money so they can continue to buy drugs or alcohol, or use that money for something that others don't deem necessary. Because of this generalization, many of the people in actual need get looked over and the people who could help them don't. This is the mind set I had when this man approached me. But why did I judge him and make assumptions about his life when I knew nothing about him?
Come Sunday morning, Kollin and I were sitting in Mass and the priest began his homily. The subject of his homily was none other than that of helping those around us. The main message that I took away from Mass that day was that many people don't help others when they are capable because they think, "Oh, someone else will help them. I don't have to," or "I don't want to be the person who does that, no one else is." As humans, we usually don't go into uncharted territory unless someone else does it first and makes it out okay. This is the same mentality that many people have about helping others. The priest continued to talk about a time on the train when a man stood up and asked for money so he could have a meal that day. The priest admitted that is how he felt and once a woman approached the man with some cash, others started to do the same. Everyone who gave money and probably some others were completely capable of helping him, but needed an example to follow.
A story to take with you is one that happened to me this past weekend. Kollin and I were coming back from the farmer's market heading for the Red Line. As we are talking we pass a homeless man and he says, "Hello ma'am, do you have any spare change? A quarter or anything would really help me." I didn't hear and Kollin said that he didn't have any change on him as we mostly use debit cards. We approached the corner of the street and I asked Kollin what he said. Upon hearing that this man wanted only a quarter and I complain about how annoying change in my pocket or purse is, it really sunk in how blessed I am. That change is someone's meal or bus ride to work. At the farmer's market I bought cilantro and received change back - 50 cents. I thought about telling the woman to keep the change because I didn't want to carry it around with me. For some reason I didn't and placed it in my purse. Then 20 minutes later, I meet a man who desperately needs the change that I thought about just throwing away.
So, after a long post my main point is this - be that person who starts the trend and helps others when you can. Be that person who doesn't assume and thinks the best of people. Be the person who thinks about changing your perspective of the less fortunate and take the time to really think about how you can help someone - because you can, even if that isn't in monetary form. A simple hello, a piece of fruit from your lunch, a prayer for them or even just a smile can change how that person feels or gets through his or her day.