Sometimes I forget about those who need so much more than me and you.
My work used to focus on children with nothing. Not even parents. Or if they had a parent (the really lucky ones had two), that parent wasn’t always available, or tuned in, or able to care for themselves, never mind a child.
Today the New York Times tells us the story about Dasani and I’m crying.
I’m crying because we live in a world where beautiful children live in places most of us wouldn’t leave our dogs. I’m crying because we lose the gifts and grace of those children.
If we are being honest, when we forget, when we claim it’s someone else’s problem, we toss them away. We look in the other direction. We worry about when we can upgrade to the next MacBook or how many video games we will buy our children for Christmas. Looking at poverty is a downer. We feel helpless. We feel we have nothing to do with the change required to make stories like Dasani’s a distant memory.
I will speak only for myself.
I can do better. I can remind myself that when I spent my days with children like Dasani they taught me more than I taught them. They showed me what trust really means and how a relationship can change the world. They showed me how hard life can be without complaint and how deep we can all dig to move forward.
Knowing children like Dasani is a big part of why I have little patience for those who complain about small inconveniences. If we really believe we are all equal and have a soul spirit and gifts to share with the world, I philosophically believe those of us who were lucky enough to be born into a family that has a home and food and some disposable income are obligated to get on with doing something with that privilege.
The discomfort of reality
My passion for changing the world can make others uncomfortable. People protest, “I have it hard, too. Bad things happened to me. My issues aren’t less important.” Maybe your stuff is as traumatic. But I ask you to test that against reality.
True. We all have a story. We all have a past, some darker than others. I just think if kids like Dasani can sleep with mice, wait an hour to microwave a meal, go to school hungry, live with 9 other people in a 500 sq ft room, manage a life with drug addicted, gang involved parents, and still hold a ‘B’ average in school, the reality is we can all suck it up once in awhile and move forward despite the hard stuff.
It takes effort to change
Dasani has people pushing her to be better. She doesn’t get a pass because she is homeless. After getting into a scape in gym class, Dasani has lunch with the principal:
“Miss Holmes [her school principal] glowers at Dasani, who tries to leaven the mood by bragging about her place on the honor roll. The principal is unmoved. Dasani still has a B average.
“I want the highest end of the honor roll,” Miss Holmes says. “I want more. You have to want more, too.”
We often forget that pushing to do more despite the stuff in our lives is healthy and good and necessary. Dasani’s life will be no better if the caring adults around her give her a pass because she has challenges. Pity doesn’t help.
Similarly, starting your own business, changing the world doesn’t happen from good intentions and dreams of “someday.”
We need to push through discomfort to make the changes we want in our lives and in our world.
Choices are a bitch
Doing the work to change the world requires making hard choices. Everyone who wants something better has to make big decisions and some are more intense than others.
I remember so many conversations with “my boys” at the residential treatment home that sounded like this.
“Sue, it’s not fair.”
“It’s not. You’re right.”
“I want to give up.”
“That’s your choice. I can’t make that choice for you.”
“What happens if I give up?”
“You know what happens. You know how it ends.”
“I’m either dead or in jail. Right.”
“Right. I’ll have your back. I’ll advocate for you to go to school, live in a safe place, but you need to do the work. I can’t do your homework, or stand up to the peers who lead you. You’ll need to leave home and start somewhere new. I can’t move for you. And I can’t tell you what to do. It’s big and it’s your choice and that sucks. But I believe in you.”
Some kids chose to change their lives. Some didn’t. I loved them all. Some are gone now. It breaks my heart when I remember.
So I ask us all to remember that we have power. We have choice. We have the means to do the work that matters.
I get sidetracked. I forget. I get self-indulgent and bored. And when I notice that happening (and it will) I need to bring myself back to center. I need to remember why I do what I do. I need to remember Dasani and Christian and Grayland and Marvin and Nate. They matter and we have the power to give them the chance to change the world, too.
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