Wow, we're already six days into the trip and so far it has been a whirlwind of experience-- ups and downs, rights and lefts, Ks and Js and Ps and Os and 11ths and 12ths and New Yorks and Connecticuts and Pennsylvanias... (navigating the DC streets has proven to be quite a chore).
Our service experiences have been inspiring and life-changing, but what has really defined those experiences for me was the 48-hour Homeless Challenge. Each step, each hour, taught me so much about humanity, the way people work, and what it means to be in a privileged socioeconomic situation-- because even though I am by no means wealthy, being middle class and able to live a fairly comfortable life (having access to a bed, shelter, food when I'm hungry, a shower, an education) equates to me as a large privilege over sleeping in the streets and begging for money because I simply have no other option in order to survive. My socioeconomic situation may not always seem a privilege to me as I walk DC and see well-dressed government officials and CEO's running around with their Starbucks and fancy briefcases, and my privilege may not be as extreme as theirs, but middle class is still privilege, and having been on the challenge and recognizing that privilege has made me so grateful for the things I have, until recently, taken for granted.
And the thing is, sometimes living in that privileged situation allows for the freedom to focus on little unimportant bad things that happen in life and between humans. It's a privilege to have brain space to worry about small things. Don't get me wrong, while I was homeless many more faults in humanity were exposed to me, but what stuck out even more to me was the pure goodness that exists within humanity. Never before have I lived for a consecutive 48 hours solely at the hands of humanity's generosity. Never before have I been so reliant on other people's goodness. The money given to me while panhandling, the lady who let me borrow a pen at her convenience store, my guide, Anthony, who called for more blankets as I laid in an alley shivering and crying, the men and women driving the Martha's Table van who gave me an extra sweatshirt and sweatpants, treated me like a human being, and gave me food, the other people experiencing homelessness who offered me advice and their stories, my partner, Patricia, for stress-laughing with me, and my partner, Lauren, for being my pain buddy and riding the bus with me when our joints hurt too much to walk, the 19-year-old girl I met in the upstairs bathroom of the library who told me her heartbreaking story of foster care and women's shelters and who made the terrible reality of homelessness and suffering youth so real for me in a way no other person could have, the people who shook my hand as I left the church on Sunday morning and everybody else that is escaping my mind now-- each one of the people behind each of those blessings proved to me that humanity is more than designer clothes and bumping elbows, more than fancy jobs and pristine apartments--and the wanting of those things. Being a member of humanity is about standing next to each other in support and pain and humor and realizing that we are all in this life together-- no person less than or greater than the other. Each situation is only a situation, a trap only if we are alone in it--which we absolutely never, ever are if we look close enough. Being a human is about more than tucking ourselves safely inside of our own privilege and never daring to venture out and recognize the vast amount of systematic benefits that we somehow unjustly have received and how messed up that actually is. Being a human is about recognizing that privilege, and working hard to extend that privilege to others, even if that means we have to give up a little of our own. That whole extending our privilege, extending our hand, and being generous thing, that's love. Being a human is about being the walking vision of love.
This is where the organizations we have been volunteering for come in, as each place stands as a reaching hand into the hopelessness and loneliness that is homelessness. Volunteering at Martha's Market, SOME (So Others Might Eat), A Wider Circle, DC Central Kitchen, Bread for the City, as well as everywhere else, has even furthered my belief in the goodness that is the human race. As we help at each of these places in whatever way we can, I am reminded that absolutely anybody can support a good thing-- and that's where our power lies as volunteers: we get to decide what matters and what organizations we want to support with our time. By volunteering at the organizations we are volunteering at, we are making a statement to the world that we stand firmly on the side of goodness and justice, firmly on the side of ending homelessness and eradicating poverty.
As Sandy put so gracefully in reflection this afternoon, all we really need to do is "show up" and we are well on our way to making a difference. I hope that is what we've been doing this week--"showing up" in a city plagued with an overwhelming amount of people experiencing homelessness and helping in whatever way we can to minimize homelessness in the short amount of time we're here.
I am so excited to see where our last day of service tomorrow will lead, and feel so grateful to have been able to spend my break learning and serving. It has been a privilege in and of itself.