As I watch the leaves shoot off the trees on this windy chilly fall morning I am reminded of the delicacy that defines our humanity. The wind rips the leaves off the branches of the tree. Those leaves die, but the tree remains strong, still, and patient.
We too are at the whim of circumstances beyond our control. Change. It defines us, and destroys us, because we are human. An electric ball of emotion and free will. The interesting and most ironic aspect to this undeniable law is that, to a certain degree, WE are the instigators of that change.
Every action (choice) we take dictates a point sometime in our future. So, many of us obsess over the future or whether or not a choice in our past was correct. Our illusion of control over life stems from our freedom to choose. We have options, so we must be in control, right?
More money, more choice
Some of us are blessed with more of those options. In our world today, the primary factor that influences our variety of choices in life is money. Some are born into it. Some work very hard for it. Some kill for it. Some have it and then lose it. Many of the choices we make revolve around deciding how we can get more of it or how we can spend what we have, wisely or unwisely.
What about the people that barely have any? What choices does that leave them? Recently, I read an article in C-ville Weekly, that revealed some answers to those questions. Some with less money, and therefore less choice, simply choose to cooperate and look out for each other. They share good times and whatever they are able to get from others’ charity. Their choices boil down to survival.
Just trying to get by
I recently became interested in learning more about the homeless community in Charlottesville. I was curious to find out what life is like for those who have less choice than me. Like so many of them, my mother struggled with mental illness and addiction. She often found herself in situations where she was essentially homeless, but to my knowledge, did not spend time in a homeless shelter. It's important to me to try and learn more about these folks' circumstances in order to work on my own inner turmoil and recovery as a result of my mother's inability to be "normal."
I decided to start volunteering at the Haven, a day shelter that helps meet the homeless’ basic needs, provides housing assistance services, and gives referrals for other support the homeless may need. From what I can tell so far, these folks are just people trying to get by. I don’t know what all their stories are or how they came to be in their present situation. I do know choice was involved, but they’re really no different that you or I. We are all humans. We all have the SAME basic needs. Clean air, food, water, shelter, safety, love to name a few.
If suddenly your own circumstances changed because of something out of your control, where would you be? Stripped of the choices money can provide, we would still have these basic needs including love and compassion.
Roller coaster of real joy
I left the Haven on Friday after volunteering, and felt more joy and serenity than I probably ever have in my life. All I had to do was treat those folks like they were human. Give them a piece of paper when they wanted to write something down. Let them use the phone. Help them fill out an application for a bus pass. Show compassion.
It comes and goes, of course. Life is a roller coast. I am an electric ball of emotion and free will. I have my good days and my bad, but I am choosing to live it, and try to make it count toward positive growth. I am working on my own growth. These Small Acts help me live more consciously and compassionately.
We the trees
In the end we are all like the tree. Our choices and consequences, like the leaves, they come and go, but what’s left behind is the tree, the aspects of humanity that connect us. Our ability to love, cooperate, and do good for each other. Our circumstances might be delicate, and at the whim of change, but our basic humanity binds us together, and like those who have very little, gives us strength to go on.
Regardless of how much money we have, we still have a choice in the way we treat other people and our planet. You might not be able to buy a soda if you’re homeless, but you could still recycle a can you see lying on the side of the road as you walk past to your camp.