Today, a young woman came into our community services office asking for toiletries. She is homeless, and has been struggling with many problems in her life. She was only here for a minute, and as my co-worker handed her a little bag of shampoo, soap and other basic needs, she said, “I just can’t wait to be in my own house, sit in my shower, have a cup of coffee and feel like a person again.”
To feel like a person again.
A lot of homeless people walk in and out of our office on a daily basis. It’s easy to spot them, to pick them out of a crowd – threadbare clothes, dirty fingernails, unkempt hair, satchels and bags where they stow all their possessions. Their expressions range from panic, pride, despair to defiance, but underneath it all is an overall sense of brokenness.
Because it’s easy to spot them, to pick them out of a crowd, it’s also easy to judge them. It’s easy to make assumptions about them, their life choices and their circumstances. And yet, what dawned on me today is that brokenness is not something that we only find in the poor, the homeless, the hungry. It’s something we find in the middle class, the upper class, and every other class in between. It’s something we find in those struggling with addiction, marital problems, unemployment. It’s something we find in those battling with illness, with discrimination, with abuse. It’s something we find in those who are confused, angry, estranged.
Brokenness is not an economic condition. It’s a human condition. It was this young woman’s condition today, and it has been mine once or twice before. I’ve lived long enough to experience my share of hardships, and I’ve been subjected to – or even subjected myself to – persons or situations that threatened to steal my sense of identity, my sense of dignity and personhood. Because of this, I have an idea of how it feels to forget who you are or what you’re worth.
Now I’ve also been tremendously blessed with a loving husband, a strong family and amazing friends. I’ve been fortunate to have had people in my life to guide me in my life choices. And in a recession that has been ruthless and absolutely indiscriminate, I’ve been extremely privileged not only to survive, but to thrive. Yet, today has been a reminder that all of these things are gifts. They have been given to me freely, and they come with no guarantees. And underneath all of my blessings, my good fortune and privilege, I am also human. Also broken. And suddenly, while I fall under a different tax bracket, a different zip code and a different social class than this young woman, I realize that she and I are not so different at all.
It’s not about whose problems are bigger, or whose wounds run deeper. It’s not even about who does what for whom. It’s about what we share as people, what divides us and brings us together. We are all broken, but we have one another, and we need one another to be made whole again. To listen and be listened to. To accept and be accepted without judgement or blame. To encourage and be uplifted. And while there may be no permanent solutions to the problems that plague our world today, I believe that in this exchange of giving and receiving we can find relief. Like a house, a shower and a cup of coffee, these are some of our basic human needs. And for both the one who gives and the one who receives, these simple acts of kindness help us to transcend social and economic separations. To feel like a person again.