There has been a topic running through my head since moving back to Sacramento. Because it is a ‘real’ city, Sacramento has a full range of people and lifestyles. The good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly are all on view.
Everyday I see men and women in wheelchairs – some missing a leg, others carrying an extra 100 or 200 pounds in weight – rolling down the side walk to their destinations. I see elderly ladies loaded down with grocery bags and young mothers pushing prams waiting for the city bus. I see a blind man with a white cane tapping his way across the street and I gasp.
There are military vets at the intersections with signs saying “will work for food” or “everybody needs help sometime.” There are overturned trash cans along the sidewalks and walls with graffiti staking out territories. There is the background wail of ambulances and police cars, and silent alley ways are littered with broken syringes and cardboard boxes.
In the clean, quiet and middle class, suburban neighborhoods I have frequently lived in, all unpleasantness is hidden away, along with the cemeteries, halfway houses and methadone clinics. These neighborhoods have the resources to hide their imperfections from the common view, and are reminded to be charitable by walk-a-thons and occasional money-raising appeals.
But when the less fortunate are not included in the communal photo, all suffer. Those in need do not receive the help and attention they require, and those who are temporarily blessed lose an opportunity to learn gratitude and compassion. For if life teaches us anything, it is that it is a cyclic and this Wheel of Fortune is constantly turning.
The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike which means that forces greater than our personal desires, affirmations and actions have the power to change the course of our lives. Today’s socialite can become tomorrow’s drug addict; today’s athlete can tomorrow be struggling with cancer; today’s suburban family can tomorrow be living in a car.
When I was younger, two close friends and I used to believe that as soon as this or that crisis was over, every thing will be okay. We didn’t realize at that time that nothing is constant – the good or the bad. We kept waiting – and waiting – for things to stablize. But when one part of our lives would get better, some other area would disintegrate.
Eventually, and reluctantly, I learned to appreciate the present rather than yearn for some better time in the future. Once you give up hope, everything becomes clearer. So today when I drive the city streets and see those less fortunate than I am, I feel compassion – not in an ‘I’m better or luckier than they’ sort of way, but as a recognition that we are all part of the human family not matter what our faces, histories, or circumstances.
I now carry a handful of dollar bills in the car and when I see someone carrying a sign and asking for help, I no longer ‘think’ about whether I should give, or whether he looks ‘honest’ or how he will spend the money. These dollar bills are not mine but simply passing through my hands to other destinations. So I roll down the window and pass one through. In every single instance, the recipient has always said, “Thank you and God bless you,” and I have felt that blessing – whether it was sincerely meant or not is not my concern.
And when I pass people in wheelchairs or old women struggling, or street people stumbling, I mentally say, “God bless you,” and feel that blessing in myself. So who is it who has given, and who is it who has received?