Reading between the lines of a message written on cardboard
"What do you think it's like?" I asked her as we walked along our usual route, weights in both hands as we pumped our arms back and forth in sync with our jogging shoes. "I mean, how do you think it feels to know you have reached a point where you need to ask for help on a piece of cardboard?" It was a question that had been heavy in my head all day. We have all been exposed to it, maybe even experienced it; a man or woman on the side of the street with a cardboard sign in front of them. Sharpie bleeds through the flimsy cardboard, piercing it with a plea for help.
After seeing a man on the side of the street earlier that day with a sign that read "Homeless Veteran. Spare change. God Bless," and giving him five dollars, I had been fixated on what it must feel like to have to ask for help in this manner. To Stand Alone. On The Side Of Traffic. And Beg For Spare Change. To Pray That This Change Will Change Your Circumstances.
Yes, there are times when I roll down my window and give an individual money. I am no martyr for this. But I am often met with criticism: "They are going to use it for drug money." "They should go to a shelter or get a job to get their life on track." But all the criticism in the world cant change the fact that moves me to reach out my hand and forge a connection through a piece of paper that I wish meant nothing: Tomorrow I could be writing for help on a piece of cardboard. Tomorrow I could need someone to read my sign and extend a shred of humanity to me. Today, tomorrow or the next day I could be in the same position. You could be too.
I don't know what it is like to be homeless. I am not trying to act like an enlightened figure or speak of things I do not know here. I am simply questioning what we all might say if we were forced to write upon a piece of cardboard. How could we sum up our story into less than 10 words? Is that a trick question? Well, yes. I have a hard time believing any story can be a mere ten words. But then why do we never ask to hear the rest of the story? Why do we ignore people who are homeless? Why do we look straight ahead when they are to the side of us? Why do we stare at the red light, praying it will turn green a little faster, so that we can drive away quickly and forget?
Why do we leave people, who are just as human as us, standing there with only ten words?
Well perhaps that is why I am here: blogging and writing all the time. Because we all have a beginning, a middle and an end. We all have a voice, though some have the privilege to be more resonant than others. We all have something to say, a proclamation that should not be boiled down to broken sentences, strangled to fit on the back of a pizza box.
For this reason, among many more, is the reason that I will be dedicating my first year after college to service. I have been accepted to two programs (Yay!) and will be learning of my placement in the next few weeks (keep you posted). I intend to continue blogging throughout the journey and I guess it is about time that I stated this as my purpose. Finally I can define my blog: This blog is not about me, nor for me. This blog is about each and every one of you and the common thread sewn between us that makes us all human at the end of the day. This blog is not only about what makes us unique, special and different, but more importantly, what calls us all to be the same. And if I show that to one person then that is enough.
I am a lover of good literature, profound ideas and pages of goodness that leave me questioning the world around me. And if you are too then I highly recommend adding this book to your reading list. Same Kind Of Different As Me, by Denver Moore and Ron Hall, exposes the contrast between homelessness and privilege and caused me to really question: Am I really all that different from a man holding up a cardboard sign? This story is incredible and true. I envy any person who gets to trace the words of this remarkable book while I am forced to return back to my textbooks and reading for classes.