Since January, I have worked for a large poverty-fighting organization. And we do really great, really important work, but are still somewhat divorced from the in-your-face realities that exist for the poor here in the United States.
But yesterday? Yesterday was different. I went to an organization that provides housing, food, healthcare and job training services to people in NYC. There are a lot of these organizations and they are mostly doing great work, and the people who work there every day deserve all of the credit in the world for sacrificing higher pay for this important work.
Yesterday I actually got the opportunity to sit down and talk with someone who is homeless. Someone who lived on the streets and in the subway stations pretty near where I live in my apartment. He lived on the streets for 15 (yes you read that right) years, and through the outreach from this program was convinced to come indoors and be helped.
He is polite, charming, well-spoken. He graduated high school. He is 55 years old. He has both a serious mental illness and is an active substance abuser. And for the last 15 years of his life he has lived with a suitcase and his wits on the streets of my neighborhood.
Hopefully, through this program he will get stable housing, treatment for his mental health issues and begin treatment for his substance abuse. But what he said was the most important thing was that he is finally, for the first time in a while, regaining a little bit of what it feels like to be human -- to be seen, and not ignored, to be treated with respect, and not discarded with the trash.
I went back to my office, and someone had sent me this presentation. And the combination of this with my meeting really, really, I mean at a visceral gut level, hit me: I am lucky. I have pretty much won the life lottery by being an upper-middle class American. But yet I complain too much. I whine about infertility, about my husband's lack of meaningful work, and about pretty much everything. Instead I should feel grateful -- grateful that I have a wonderful husband and a supportive family. Grateful for my health, for my education, for my income bracket. Grateful that I do not worry where I will sleep or what I will eat or my personal safety.
I'm not sure how long this feeling will last, but I am going to try to hold onto it for at least a few days. Because sometimes I need a little perspective on what is really important.