This post really has nothing to do with the topic of my blog, but it’s been on my mind and sometimes the best way for me to sort out things on my mind is to write about them. Forgive me.
San Diego, like any large city, has its fair share of bums. The first thing I noticed about San Diego bums is that they are much harder working than KC bums. We saw a couple begging with a sign, but the vast majority we saw were digging through trash to collect cans and bottles (I don’t drink pop, but doesn’t California have a deposit you get back when you recycle or something?). We also saw a few tent cities and a couple people passed out on the sidewalk.
These images stuck with me throughout the trip. One day, I thought how lucky I was to get the opportunity to travel to nice places, stay in nice hotels, and eat nice meals. I’ve never gone hungry. I thought about how my job was actually paying me for my time off. I thought about how these people that we had been seeing would probably never get to enjoy these things. Then I thought that these people probably couldn’t do what I do. They probably couldn’t reliably report to a job at a certain time each day. They couldn’t write formulas in Excel or queries in Access. They couldn’t analyze complex data or have the confidence and poise to make presentations in front of groups. They couldn’t balance a budget, they couldn’t have survived college, they couldn’t have made the sacrifices I have made to get me to this spot. I had earned these things through my hard work.
Then I stopped in my tracks. What an arrogant, ignorant way to think.
I thought about all I had been given in life, all of the things I had taken for granted. My mother didn’t drink or smoke or do drugs while she was pregnant with me, allowing my body and brain to fully develop in the womb. I was born into a free country. My parents paid attention to me, touched me, and responded to my cries when I was a baby. As I grew, they bought me toys and played with me. My diaper was changed when it was wet. I had extended family that doted on me. My parents bought me school supplies and met with my teachers to make sure I was doing well. I got in trouble when I didn’t follow the rules. High expectations were set for me, and there were punishments when I fell short. I was taken to church regularly. I was taken to the circus and the zoo and to science museums. I was enrolled in Little League and basketball and dance classes. My mom drove me all over town to practice, games, and recitals. I was taken to the doctor and dentist, and given healthy food to eat. My grandma sent me flowers at school on Valentines Day. When I got sick at school, someone picked me up and took me home, where they brought me toast and 7-up. My parents helped me with my homework. They cheered at my 6th and 8th grade graduations. They allowed me to put on magic shows for them and dance recitals for our extended family and neighbors. They beamed with pride when a poem I wrote got published in the newspaper. They framed my pictures all around the house and bragged about me in their yearly Christmas letters. They bought me a car and forced me to work so I learned responsibility. They helped me register for the ACT and made sure I applied for scholarships. They moved me into my dorm room and later paid my apartment rent until I graduated college. They loved me.
What if I didn’t have any of that?
What if I was born addicted to drugs and left in soggy diapers for hours or even days? What if when I cried as a baby, nobody came? What if my parents didn’t care what I did, and there were no or poorly-thought out consequences when I did misbehave? What if there were no expectations, no meetings with teachers, no driving to and from activities? What if my parents were addicted to drugs themselves? What if I wasn’t born in a free country, where hard work gets you somewhere? What if my parents did just enough to keep me with them, only to ignore me? Or what if they didn’t, and I bounced around from one foster home to the next, with a different set of rules each month?
I didn’t earn anything.
Sure, I have worked hard and continue to work hard. But the reason I can do this is because of the hard work my parents did, and the hard work their parents did before that, and so on. That and some luck.
When I see bums, I try not to look down on them. I don’t typically give them money, because I don’t want to fuel an unhealthy habit. But I will buy them food. I will support organizations that teach them life skills. I will pray for them as I walk by. I will smile at them. I will see them as a person created in God’s image, with feelings and needs not unlike the ones I have. I will wonder how their life story is different than mine. It is my responsibility as a Christian, heck as a PERSON, to help these people. I will never be able to do enough, never be able to solve the poverty problem. But I can be a small part of the band-aid to stop the bleeding.