Every morning on my ride to school, I pass through a busy intersection of four city streets. Often I am the last car caught by the red light, and I am face to face with a small cardboard sign, covered in black permanent marker. The text is usually something along the lines of “Homeless. Anything can help, God bless.” Reading this, I get nervous. I shift uncomfortably in my seat, as if this person can see right through the steel and glass and painted exterior that separates me from the curb he stands on. Truthfully, this is not all that separates us. A deep cultural divide teaches our children to be afraid of tattered clothing or dirty faces.
As we pull away from the light, I am stung with painful remorse. As I replay the events over and over in my head, I can see the conspicuous and calculated way I tried to avoid the man’s mournful eyes, just in case he should think I wanted to give him something. I think about what I perceive to be my strongest and most valued convictions that my mom and dad have tried to impart upon me my whole life: “to love God with all your heart and to love thy neighbor as thyself.” I have been taught that whenever I give, I also receive, sometimes much more than I give.
Remembering the man’s weathered, dirt-streaked face reminds me of how easily fear makes me forget about these important words I want to live. I question myself and how I could associate fear with an old man. I wonder what in my life has allowed me to perceive myself as inherently better than a homeless man who has nothing but a cardboard sign and whatever it takes to stand on a street corner and ask strangers for change.
Thinking of how often I sit at this stoplight obsessing over what a man on the side of the road is thinking about the way I avoid his gaze, I resolve to change. Rather than going through my life confined to a comfort zone isolated from a majority of this world, I vow to live out my belief that everyone in this world is connected. I believe that every person is born of the same worth and that we all deserve the same treatment. When this knowledge and this belief becomes practice, I will have become the person I want to be. I am comforted by my belief that I was put on this Earth with a purpose. My mom once told me that we are not individually responsible for saving the world, and in fact, it is impossible for one person to do so. Nevertheless, we do have a responsibility to work with others to build world community. I believe I must live as if the inherent worth and dignity of every person is equal to my own. I will find my own way to break down barriers.
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