Know This Love: Panhandling, violence and gratitude

The last several months have been some of the most challenging of my entire life. I’ve been stretched, strained and exhausted till I thought I would break, and then taken a mile beyond.

Since I’m a storyteller, I could take this opportunity to tell the true, detailed stories of what has befallen me and what I’ve created (if we can really distinguish between the two). I like telling stories, and who doesn’t like to relate his own?

But that’s not what I want to do today.

It’s very easy to become overwhelmed by our circumstances, especially when they’re challenging ones. Yet every time I get depressed about what’s happening, I seem to be shown someone far worse off than I am.

Yesterday I was at the laundromat when a guy approached me and immediately began telling me about himself.

He was “clean from tweak” forever he assured me, and trying to get a job through the Second Chance program. Though he drank sometimes, he was putting his life back on track.

He asked me if I would mind buying alcohol for him.

“Why can’t you do it?” I asked him.

“Because I used to panhandle outside their store,” he replied. “They don’t like me coming around.”

It struck me that in spite of everything I’ve been going through, I have never in my life had to actually beg to get a meal. I have parents who support and love me, even if they’re thousands of miles away. I always have enough food to eat.

Feeling a little bit guilty, I declined his request. “I don’t even buy alcohol for myself,” I said.

“’Cause it ain’t healthy, right?” he said.

“Yeah, it really isn’t.”

A couple weeks back at a church gathering, we watched a video of people in a specific area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I believe, who had suffered more than any of us can imagine.

Many of the women had not only been raped and assaulted, they had lost entire families, homes and livelihoods to the war.

A Christian missionary from the Netherlands was the only white person brave (or stupid) enough to venture into that world. He brought back an audio recording of these people singing praises to God.

It was beautiful music, and it stunned me into near speechlessness. These people had nothing — and still they were grateful to be alive. They were celebrating.

Later, when we separated into groups for discussion, I didn’t know what to say. The best I managed was to mutter that the violence displayed in that video was so great, I just couldn’t fathom it.

I also can’t imagine going through that and surviving, much less being grateful. But if those people could be grateful, then I can too.

There is so much I cannot change or control, so many things that hurt right now, but I choose to be grateful instead.

I try to make a list in my head every day. It includes semi-universal things, like the love of my family, food to eat, proper medical care and my little apartment — as well as more personal things.

If you’re struggling, I ask you to do the same: make a list, and you’ll see that life is good — no matter what you may be struggling with.