I’ve become more and more content with what I have as I grow older. I’m less inclined to want much of anything other than comfort and security. I enjoy my garden and probably spend too much on plants but they bring me joy and seem to delight my neighbors as well. I like to travel, and there is much of the world that I have not seen, but the time during the pandemic has taught me that I can find great joy in just staying home. The best things in life and not things, they are people.
I often hear arguments that those who work hard, earn degrees, make money, save and invest wisely are somehow more deserving than those who appear to be lazy. While such thinking seems logical, it does not take into account particular challenges that all too often create the problems that appear to be only a lack of motivation or a willingness to be productive like the rest of us. Experience has taught me to be leery of categorizing people without knowing their stories. Life is incredibly complex, and all too often we insist on interpreting issues that we witness with the narrow mindset of our own experiences. When we do that we run the risk of misinterpreting what has happened in an individual’s life.
I saw a short article recently that featured a photo of Pope Francis dressed in ordinary clothing, making him unrecognizable as the leader of the Catholic Church. It is a guise that he sometimes uses so that he may leave the Vatican, and serve the sick and poor on a personal basis. In the same spirit, former president, Jimmy Carter, offers not just platitudes and donations to the needy, but his own sweat labor to help them. Instead of judging those who struggle in our society, such men and women offer their compassion and understanding without strings attached. They exemplify the message that I believe we should all be following.
I deserve no more than the desperate woman living inside a tent underneath a freeway in some major city. I do not know how she got there, and it is not for me to judge. What I do know is that I should not be content to simply look away, and complain about her situation. Instead of grumbling about the cost of actually helping her, or arguing that taxing me to make her life more equitable is only going to make more people more lazy, I should be asking what it is that she really needs. Perhaps she is in need of medical care, or maybe it is education or some kind of work. Mostly, a bit of kindness would be a good first step in giving people in dire need a jumpstart on their lives. In some cases, they may be so ill that we simply must care for them, and make sure that they live in a clean and safe environment.
I was blessed with a quick mind, an ability to learn even very difficult concepts. I inherited intelligence from my parents, but not any money. My father died when I was only a child, and my mother struggled financially from that point until the day she died. Nonetheless, she managed even with a mental illness to hold down a job, pay for a small home and mostly care for herself. When she became unable to work a host of good people supported her with understanding. Her boss did not fire her for sporadic attendance on her job. Her neighbors protected her when her psychoses made her seem frightening. She did not end up homeless or destitute, because people around her cared. Perhaps that lady under the freeway was not as lucky.
My brothers and I did in fact work our way into the middle class. We have multiple degrees and nice homes. We travel and enjoy the good things in life. We indeed worked hard to move from the poverty of our youth, but we were also lucky in so many regards. We mostly had all the tools we needed to work our way up the economic ladder, and there were few roadblocks to our progress. Not everyone is so fortunate.
As an educator I have seen students who truly struggle to learn. Some of them are balancing responsibilities and abuses at home that nobody should have to endure. Life seems to be far more complicated for them than seems fair. It takes more herculean effort for them to move even an inch than it does for others. They seem destined for hardships that tear down the spirit and crush the soul. Even when they attempt to overcome the realities of their situations, they all too often find themselves falling backward due to circumstances beyond their control.
All of us deserve a comfortable life and opportunities to find happiness. Sadly, far too many live in places where achieving something as simple as basic security is almost impossible. Often, when they take risks to journey to better lives, they find roadblocks, borders, and walls. We literally make it illegal for them to seek a place that allows them to improve, live free, uplift themselves no matter how hard they are willing to work.
When someone asks me what I think I deserve that I do not have, I realize that I have everything that anyone should ever need. I should instead be asking myself how I might help others to find the dignity and comfort that we all deserve.