In just about every way, I am your average, if very well educated, upper middle class soccer mom. I was a pediatrician before I “opted out” and became a stay at home mom. I drive a minivan, I run around in the afternoon getting my children from their private schools to their myriad activities, and I obsess over whether we are eating enough organic fruits and vegetables.
But on Tuesdays, I leave my comfortable, privileged world behind and work with people who might as well live on another planet. I volunteer at Christian Community Service Center where we help the poor, hungry, disabled and otherwise needy. Friends have remarked, “How wonderful that you do that!” but my little secret is that I do it for myself and I get more out of it on one day than all of my clients have for the past 2 years combined. No matter what concern I have when I walk in, it pales in comparison to the struggles that virtually every person who lives in poverty faces on a daily basis. They are not all saints. I know I have been lied to and stories have been embellished, but the majority have handled adversity in a way that is inspiring and humbling. Recently, I had a client who declined the food basket I offered because “I know there are other people who need it more. Today I just need a few more shirts. I have been so blessed in my life.” This, from a toothless HIV positive woman whose son is bipolar and whose husband just left her. I don’t want to even hint to her the things I have been complaining about all week.
Before I started working at Christian Community Service Center, there was little intersection between my life and that of Houston’s poor, but now, I slow down when I see a group of homeless to see if there are anyone I know. When I hear about violence in the Third Ward, I worry it is one of our regular clients. I believe that I have found “my people” – the group that ironically, I feel the most comfortable with. When my kids are in school full time, it is this group that I want to spend my days with, even if what I do is a drop in the bucket. What I do will likely not change the enormous gulf between them and me, but I believe I will continue to try. When I watch our clients leave, arms full of groceries, clothes and most importantly, the knowledge that they were heard, cared for and understood, I feel like I have at least done something. But I also know I am returning to my safe neighborhood and they are going back into the shadows, climbing into buses and broken down cars, as the shiny SUV’s and minivans of me and my friends whiz by.
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