Every week I am reminded of the things that I have in life, and every week things are put into perspective.
I meet with my literacy student every week at 6pm at the local library. Each week when we’re working on our lesson for the week and working on simple words like “bed” and “pet,” I am reminded to not take reading for advantage. I see the frustration in my students eyes and I wish so badly for him that he had the gift of reading that most of us don’t think twice about.
I sometimes find myself waiting outside of the library for my student, as I like to be early to appointments. In the last six weeks, I have noticed a trend in the population that frequents the library during the time that we’re there.
There is a local homeless shelter across the street from the library, and it doesn’t open until later in the evening, so the library is the logical place for the homeless people to hang out. My first encounter was with a man who was digging through the trash outside of the library one evening, looking for cans and/or plastic bottles that he could recycle. At first I thought he was looking for something he accidentally threw away, but I then saw him adding his finds to a dirty plastic bag. My heart just broke for him.
In the weeks that have followed, I’ve seen homeless men and women sleeping in chairs, reading books, and searching for jobs on the Internet. Whenever I see them sitting warmly in their chair, comfortable for the time being, I smile at them. I don’t look through them, but I acknowledge their existence. I can’t imagine what their life must be like or what having the stigma of “homeless” hanging over their heads must feel like. I don’t know how they ended up where they are, or where they’ll be in the future, but I try to make them feel acknowledged. So many times I’ve seen people look away or whisper, and I just don’t want to be that person.
I sometimes get a smile back, or a sleepy raising of the eyebrow acknowledging me back, but with or without some kind of expression, I know that I appreciate smiles from perfect strangers, so maybe they might too.
Or maybe it’s completely self indulgent and I’m only doing it to make myself feel better because I realize how much worse I could have things. Either way, I genuinely hope that it does make a difference, even if it’s just a teeny, tiny part of their day.