Changing our country one person at a time

July 22, 2013

What would it mean to live
in a city whose people were changing
each other’s despair into hope? –
You yourself must change it. –
what would it feel like to know
your country was changing? –
You yourself must change it. –
Though your life felt arduous
new and unmapped and strange
what would it mean to stand on the first
page of the end of despair?

`Adrienne Rich( 1929-2012) From Dreams Before Waking

Coming back to my hotel from the theatre the other night in San Francisco, I saw a homeless woman sitting on the sidewalk panhandling with her dog. The dog resembled Riley, although she was at least three times his size, and looked at the woman with such adoration that I was drawn to go over, say hello and give her some money.  We began to talk, the woman and I.

Living in the suburbs, I don’t often encounter homeless people up close and personal like that. But she was friendly, and I learned a little bit of her story.  I couldn’t fathom her age, maybe 30ish? She had the requisite piercings and small tattoos. Married, pregnant, homeless, on methadone,  living day to day with her husband in flop hotels. All the things that are so off-putting to people who want to judge and punish.

She was also articulate, open– and seemingly guileless, although, who knows–but I liked her and conversation came easily. I noticed a well-thumbed book at her side, but couldn’t tell the title. But that dog–Sadie? She looked at her owner with such love and devotion it made me want to cry. Dogs know. They know.

“My husband thinks I should blog,” she told me. “But I don’t know anything about it.” I said I blogged and would help her.  She dug in her purse for a pen to take down my contact info but I pulled out a business card and gave it to her.

Back in my room, she was all I could think about. What was her life like? How did she get there? How would she manage?  The next night I saw her again. I’d printed out some info about how to set up a free blog, and also brought her some soaps and lotions from my hotel room.

I’ll bet you, like me, used some nice lotion this morning and probably didn’t think twice. But for someone who’s homeless, it’s not quite so easy. She can’t afford a nice lotion, much less a nice hotel room.  And yet, as she and I discussed, there but for the grace of God go any of us.  Most of us don’t even think about how easily it could be us. How one bad thing could happen and life could spiral out of control. This could be you. It  could be me.

Look around. People full of despair are all around us. We not might be able to change our entire city singlehandedly, but we can start to help one person. Do one small thing. Like maybe give them some lotion and shampoo. Or teach them how to do something like blog.  Adrienne Rich wrote

What would it mean to live
in a city whose people were changing
each other’s despair into hope?

What would it mean, indeed? And how would find a city like that?

We would make it. One person at a time. One small act at a time. That’s how we change things. That’s how we make a better place. A better world. A bit at a time.

What will you do to help someone get to that first page of the end of despair?

(And for those who worry about being scammed, HERE is my response.)

Adrienne Rich died last year in Santa Cruz, CA, leaving behind a legacy of social justice and poetry.

7 comments on “Changing our country one person at a time
  1. Susan Cooper says:

    I could see that all happening as you were talking about your experience with woman and her dog. It would so awesome if we could all do just that. I will do my part and find a way to help someone else in some small way. 🙂

  2. admin says:

    😉 There’s always something that can be done, however small, right?

  3. Leanne says:

    that’s a fantastic story Carol – the difference human kindness can make to another soul. She would have been so touched to have someone care about her instead of passing judgement. I’m glad she had the opportunity to cross paths with you x

  4. Gary Sidley says:

    Given the current lack of tolerance encouraged by high-profile politicians in both the UK & US, this post is a timely read. And as well as helping others, random acts of kindness have been shown to improve the helper’s wellbeing. So everyone would benefit.

  5. Nancy Hill says:

    Carol, sometimes your vion and compassion brings me to tears. Love you soul sister.

  6. sue says:

    What an inspiration you are Carol. I love reading your thoughts on life and was touched reading about your conversation with this young woman who probably felt lost, helpless and hopeless. Thank you for reminding us that there is good in people.

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