When I was in high school, a few of my classmates and I spent the weekend on the streets of San Francisco. I didn’t have a shower for 3 days, my hand was cramped from window washing, and pieces of gum were stuck to the bottom of my new tennis shoes for days. We were there to get to know the homeless, to talk to them, to pray with them, to feed them, and to see them in a way no one else bothered to.
Admittedly, I went on the trip not because I felt inspired to help others, but because I needed volunteer credit to graduate. In the end, it was me who ended up being helped, who ended up learning to look at myself in a way that others failed to, all because of Renee.
Renee—that was the name of a tiny black woman I encountered while in the city. From a distance she looked like a little girl, her hair short and hidden beneath two hats. She wore faded pink ballet shoes and leaned against the wall as though she were trying to meld herself into the paint. As I passed her, I was met with an expression of surprising contradiction. She was young and yet her face was folded in wrinkles so worn into her skin that not even an iron could smooth them out.
I stopped and smiled at her and then together my friends and I sang “Amazing Grace.” We started out nervous, wondering if she would walk away or yell at us in the way that so many others had. Instead, silent tears ambled down her cheeks slowly, like old men walking together in a park. We sang louder, and soon, she sang along. Before we left, she told me her name and whispered only three words – pray for me. To me, there was something humbling in those words, so full of desperation, hope, and humility. She expressed need in a way I felt I never would be able to. Somehow, this women who had seemed to have so little, made me feel as though I was the one who was deficient.
Renee taught me something that I would always remember—that any time we are faced with adversity, we are also faced with issues of pride and vulnerability. We all love strength, but it is our weaknesses that we need to be loved for, and we all have a weakness. So, I believe in the importance of humility, because without it, we would never improve, we would never see people for more than what they are.