“Good morning, Sister J. It’s a beautiful day today.”
“Every day is a beautiful day, Aaron.”
With the holiday season upon us, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the simple conversations I shared with Sister J on our bench at Lake Merritt. These days, those conversations seem like a vacation from the state of business that seems to be plaguing our world.
“How are you doing, X?”
“Oh my goodness. So stressed. There’s SO MUCH TO DO before Christmas.”
I think many people forget that it’s a luxury to be able to shop for groceries, have a home – and a refrigerator – to store them. It’s a luxury to have people in your life to shop for. Let alone, to have the money to do holiday shopping…
As of 2018, there are over half a million living homeless in the United States. This number isn’t slowing down, either. With jobs quickly being replaced by algorithms and robots, the ‘problem’ of homelessness is being expanded beyond those with drug addictions and mental health instabilities; it’s affecting white-collar people who have lived comfortable lives, with homes, boats, and six-figure income streams (link).
If you think manufacturing is going to come back to the United States, and that job stability is certain for people with college degrees (ha.) I hope you can re-examine your stance on these social issues.
For example, self-driving semi-truck startups, such as TuSimple, are already toting billion dollar valuations, after raising over $215M in investment funding.
This isn’t great news for the 3.5 million semi-truck drivers in the United States.
If you believe the lie that capitalism ‘creates jobs’ rather than invests its money in the cheapest possible solution to deliver goods to consumers, with minimal workforces, I also hope you re-examine your stance and look at the role automation is playing in our world.
Fortunately, this blog isn’t about the impending doom of the US economy. It’s about giving a shit.
While America is busy swiping its credit cards through workers making minimum wage…workers, who often have multiple jobs to support the basic cost of living – minus things like proper health insurance for 27M Americans, and counting – there’s a huge population of people who don’t have a toilet to shit in, a shower to wash before a job interview, and loved ones to call on the holidays.
These are our brothers, sisters, parents, friends, and veterans.
America loves a great argument. After all, controversy is what makes newspapers fly off the shelves.
We argue about who can use the bathroom stall next to us, the value of human life – unless, of course, it’s somebody living in another country we’re dropping bombs on, and whether or not our definition of “happy holidays” should be include “the reason for the season”.
The reason for the season? Visa. Mastercard. American Express. Discover.
More than $465 billion is spent each year on holiday shopping.
It’s been estimated that the cost to end world hunger each year is only $30 billion dollars.
While Americans are arguing over whether or not to include “Christ” in christmas, and celebrating his birth each December (it was in July) I often wonder what would happen if people re-examined their beliefs to include the world around them.
I’ve had many long conversations with the faithful few who believe Jesus is coming back. Often, they describe the day as a triumphant return of their savior, who will rapture them into the heavens and deliver them from this god-forsaken earth; raising them above the countless unbelievers who will suffer the wrath of the apocalypse…while proving themselves to have been right the entire time…
My believe is that if Jesus were to come back, it wouldn’t be on a white horse with legions of the angelic host around him.
Rather, he’d take the form of somebody like Sister J; a poor, homeless woman who gave all she had to make the world a better place for the world around her.
On many occasions when I’d greet Sister J, she’d greet me with a huge smile.
“Aaron! I have something for you!”
Her grin was as big as the sun, as she emptied an entire handful of coins into my hand.
“Don’t spend them. They’re very valuable.” she said.
Sister J, a woman who sat by the lake each day to collect coins from those who walked by, was collecting coins.
A white, tech worker with a comfortable income, place to rest my head, and money in my pocket.
These coins added up; filling two small jars I’ve kept safe.
Sometimes the most fortunate among us, by worldly standards, are the poorest in spirit. The inverse of this holds true, as somebody like Sister J was free from the hustle and bustle of life; she saw the beauty in every sunrise, made the lives better of everybody she encountered, and had radiant joy.
She was a Queen and an Angel if I ever met one. Truly.
While millions pray for the return of their savior, I assure you that he’s already come back. He’s living on the streets, sleeping on the steps of places of worship, and holding out his hand to measure the generosity of those who have been given so much in their lives.
Sister J’s gift to the world was her presence. After all, what more can we really contribute to those around us? Conversation, eye contact, sincerity, and holding space for each other as we navigate our way through life.
After her death, I found myself talking with a few homeless individuals who remembered her.
“Sister J? Yeah, we knew her. Man…she had a way with people. Whenever she spoke, people listened. She always had something powerful to say. We’d all sit around her and listen to her while she spoke.” one man said.
As the holidays roll around this year, and we find ourselves lost in the hustle and bustle of being busy, I hope that more people continue to take time out of their lives to serve those around them.
You don’t have to be wealthy to be a philanthropist. Giving isn’t measured by how much you give, but the heart in which you give.
During the holidays, homeless shelters are flooded with volunteers. To the point, they often need to turn them away.
The holidays aren’t a time where shelters need you. Rather, they need you today. Tomorrow. And the next day.
The people on the streets don’t need a once-a-year act of service. Rather, they need love and attention every single day.
You can do it. If you think you have nothing to give, please remember that it wasn’t money that made the difference in Sister J’s life; it was time.
Time, in my definition, stands for:
This Is My Everything.