Posted by Trina Bartlett
Recently, my co-worker rushed to clean the seat of a chair where a schizophrenic homeless man sat unaware that his pants were so low they were no longer covering what should have been covered. When she gently told him to pull up his pants, he apologized and pulled the up. My organization’s ability to serve this young man is limited, and he walks the street every night. Several people are working with him to try to find adequate services that will address his needs and provide him with a safe place to sleep. In the meantime, he has nothing more than what he can carry in his arms.
At the beginning of the month, I spent hours trying to find a way to get a young man back to his family. He had lost his job and with it the income that allowed him to pay rent or buy food. While on the phone with his mother, the operator broke into the conversation with a call from a prison. The prisoner was the young man’s father, who proceeded to tell me what a loser his son was. He also told the woman with whom I was talking that she should not travel the hour to pick up her son because he didn’t deserve it. Sadly, the mother listened, and the young man remained stranded with no support system or resources.
This week, a woman with six children called our offices asking for help. The electricity at her house, a run-down shack, had been shut off, and she had no hot water for baths or showers and no way to cook or heat up food. Her husband, who had lost his job a few months ago, had recently found employment but wouldn’t be receiving a paycheck for several weeks. Since the family had no electricity, and therefore no fans or air conditioning, they leave their windows open in hopes of a breeze. Because of that, the children’s bodies are covered in mosquito bites.
Every day, I hear conversations I cannot understand. My office is right next to that of our immigration attorney, so I listen daily to conversations in foreign language. Occasionally, I understand what is being said, and it is never heartwarming. I listen to families who came to the United States for political or humanitarian reasons and have no place to go. Just the other day, I witnessed a six-year-old child translating for her mother. She was telling our outreach worker about the eviction notice her family had received. At the age of six years, this little girl should be playing with dolls, taking dance lessons and swimming with her friends. Instead, she is doing all she can to prevent her family from being homeless.
Perhaps most controversial and yet most heartbreaking among the clients I encounter daily are the hundreds of people who live in generational poverty in the United States. Of these individuals, some were raised in families in which violence was a norm. Others lived in homes in which education wasn’t a value and in which routines such as dinner and bedtimes were foreign concepts. Some were born to parents who abused drugs and who neglected their children during the most crucial years.
Even though I come face to face with such poverty very day, I am also reminded that for every person who walks through our offices seeking assistance, there is another person who is pointing fingers and placing blame. I’ve heard it all:
“If people tried harder, they would have an education and a job.”
“Our country already has too many problems. Why should we help people from other countries?”
“If I can make it, anyone can make it.”
“I’m tired of my hard-earned dollars going to support woman who had kids just so they could live off the system.”
What many people don’t realize is that, as my co-worker says, “Life is one big crap shot.”
We don’t get to choose who are parents will be or where we will be born. We don’t get to choose how intelligent we will be or whether we will inherit a mental illness. And we certainly don’t get to choose whether we will be raised in an environment that values good judgement or in one where children are just lucky to get through childhood alive.
There are days when I wish I could yell to the world. I want to say that I completely agree we should all do our best and we should all make good decisions. But I also want to yell that some of us are fortunate to have been raise to understand cause, effect and consequences. Some of use are lucky to have been raised with values on which we make good decisions. Some of us were raised to think about the future rather than just the moment at hand. And some of us were raised with people who want us to excel rather than pull us down.
If life is truly a crap shoot, then I was lucky enough to roll a good deal. I may not have a lot of money or the biggest house on the block, but I am an intelligent woman surrounded by people who support me. Even better, I am surrounded by people who will do the same for a stranger who was never handed the same odds that I was.
My real fortune comes not just from having a job but from having a job that allows me to witness people who truly understand that their skills, knowledge, education and general good fortune aren’t just good luck. They received these gifts so they could use them to help and provide for others.
Getting to witness such acts to benefit the less fortunate on a daily basis makes me one of the luckiest woman in the world.