I get honked at out here. A lot. They’re not those passive toots, timidly letting you know that you’ve been stopped at a green light for about a minute already, that you can count on getting in Oregon. They’re not those slightly agitated, but certainly in the right ones you get in California when you’re about to back up into someone without even knowing. No, these honks are different. They come accompanied with flashing headlights, frantically flailing arms, and screaming scornful faces only muted by the barrier of a windshield. They mean business, whether or not you can do anything to change the current situation.
Case in point, last week I was in the left turning lane at a green light. As goes the rule in this situation, I was yielding to the oncoming traffic. There was a lot of traffic at that particular moment, so I was not being a wuss about turning, but rather I literally could not turn without causing a multi-vehicle collision. However, the person behind me in the turning lane began to steadily lay on their horn as if there was something I could do about it, as if I really could move, but was just purposefully stopping them from getting to where they so needed to be. The worst part is looking in the rear view mirror. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have one out here. They are so angry and mean looking that they scare me. Part of me gets flustered by their absurdity and the other part of me longs to get out of the car and just go give them a big hug. Their lives must be really terrible to be so angry. Maybe a hug could really help.
I have been in Maryland now for about four weeks. During those four weeks there have been two natural disasters uncommon to the area. First, an earthquake sent everyone shaking, and then Hurricane Irene visited to blow things around a bit. I can’t help but feel that I have brought this strife upon the region. The earth of the D.C. metro area is sensing my foreign presence and lashing out in an attempt to regain normalcy.
Earthquakes and hurricanes aside, much of my personal atmospheric pressure these past four weeks has resembled a natural disaster. The newtons per square meter of my life have escalated to such an extreme that the weight can be hard to bear. This can only result in strings of natural disasters aiming to restore of all of those chemicals that react to create life back to peaceful levels.
Yesterday, after a long day at work, I was driving home, and although I didn’t feel one hundred percent at peace, my situation was manageable. I was stopped at a red light, attempting to turn right despite the copious amounts of oncoming traffic, when the man behind me started laying on his horn. I looked into my rearview mirror in time to see him yelling angrily and waving his hands about. I felt like I couldn’t do anything right. If I pulled out, I’d get honked at and probably cause an accident, but if I didn’t turn, I was, or so it looked like from his expressive reaction, ruining the life of the man behind me. Luckily, the light turned green at that instant and I quickly made the turn. However, apparently, the speed at which I made the turn and then continued through the next intersection was still not good enough, as this same man began to flash his brights at me before swerving past in the other lane. Four weeks of atmospheric buildup reached a dangerous level and then the tornado hit. I sobbed the next fifteen minutes all the way home. I missed California and how mellow and nice everyone was there. I missed being in school and engaging my mind academically. I missed feeling like I was doing something, anything right. And so it poured out of me like a thunderstorm.
Unlike with Hurricane Irene, I didn’t exactly incur idyllic weather the day after the storm. It was clear that these natural disasters were not planning on leaving just yet. I’d have to work on it if I wanted a warm breeze and sun on my skin. So, today at work, I took about ten minutes and began to type about why I came out here in the first place. Throughout college, I became increasingly passionate about ending homelessness. I graduated with such fervor and motivation to go out into the world and create positive change. Yet, somewhere admist all the stress, that driving mission got muddled and lost in the flooding. And so, for ten minutes, I wrote down some of the lines that just three months ago would bring goosebumps to my skin. And it helped — some. It will be important to keep my eye on the prize in order to get out of the eye of the storm. This is what I wrote:
I care about poverty because I don’t believe that we can be a strong nation until each of our communities is strong. When people blindly turn their gaze away from the poverty that is around them or try to justify it by saying that other countries have it much worse, this weakens the foundation of our nation. We become an oxymoron, as we tell other countries how they should be treating their people, while leaving our own to battle some of the harshest living conditions.
One of my favorite quotes is from Martin Luther King, Jr. He said, “It is trite, but urgently true, that if America is to remain a first-class nation, she can no longer have second-class citizens.” Currently, our country is unintentionally telling people living in poverty and people who are homeless that they are second-class citizens. Our country is reinforcing the beliefs that people caught in poverty often come to feel every day – that they are not good enough, that something is wrong with them, and that they did this to themselves. The reality is that we are doing this to each other, and now is the time to change that, to reach out our hands to our neighbors, to love one another unconditionally.
I care about poverty because whenever I see someone homeless on the street or see a mother trying to scrape together just enough to get her children to school, I do not just see another face – I see a story. I know that person is not just another person, but someone’s daughter, son, mother, father, aunt, uncle, grandmother, grandfather, and my friend. I see the heartache, the hope, the pain, the excitement, the journey that lives behind each of their eyes.
I care about poverty because everyone deserves a hug and deserves love. I care about poverty because the day that we stop caring about the well-being of one another is the day that we have truly failed as a people. I cannot and will not continue on, pretending that it doesn’t hit me to my very core every time I see a human being huddled under an old blanket, sleeping in the rain on a bench in the park. I cannot fake that it doesn’t make me feel ill when I hear friends or family members talk down about these people. I love these people and I believe in them and I believe in us as a people to solve the poverty crisis we are experiencing now.