“Reflect upon your present blessings — of which every man has many — not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” — Charles Dickens
“But how could anyone be grateful for what they have if they didn’t know what it was like not to have what they need?”
Have you every considered what you would do if you became homeless? It could happen in a moment if your home is destroyed by fire, flood, tornado, or hurricane. Or you could see it approaching over time, slowly but inevitably creeping upon you, as you struggle with problems that seem to have no answer. In either case, what would you do? How would you handle it? What would you do with all your stuff? What would you have to give up? Would you have a solid support system to help you?
When I was a child growing up in New York City, my experience with the homeless was seeing the “bowery bum”, sitting out on the street corner with a shopping cart containing all his [her] worldly possessions and the occasional dog tied to the cart. They frightened me. They were dirty, dressed in rags and smelled bad; I just wanted them to go away.
After becoming a teacher, it became apparent that homelessness was not reserved to the “bowery bum”; families could be homeless too. It was issue that touched my life tangentially, and one, that I did not put much thought into. But that has changed. A cousin of mine is homeless for some time relying on people she knows to put her up for a while, another friend is concerned where her family will live while facing the foreclosure of her family home, and an acquaintance of ours, a young man with his dog has set up tent in our backyard due to homelessness.
I have always thought of homelessness, as something that happened to people I don’t know and believed that it was their fault for the situation. That lack of compassion really didn’t take into account the desperation that occurs when people face the loss of a loved one [breadwinner], job loss, domestic violence, divorce, family disputes, depression, mental illness, PSTD, physical disability, substance abuse, or a combination of the above. For those without a strong personal support system, there are emergency shelters and social services in place to help them re-build the economic resources to return to a normal life. Not everyone takes advantage of these services.
My cousin and the young aquaintance have not taken advantage of social services in spite of the fact that they have weak support systems. Although the circumstances that brought their lives to this point are different, they share a similarity that compounds the problem…they are dog owners. Perhaps the non-pet owner would consider this a no-brainer; get rid of the dog! However, for them the thought of giving up their dog would be the equivalent of giving up a child. Their dog is their family and only a few homeless shelters will accommodate a pet.
There are no easy answers to these complex societal problems. However, after seeing good people struggle, it makes me ashamed of the attitude I carried toward the homeless. I really did not see them as human beings in need of assistance. But today I think of a quote that has been attributed to many people:
“…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped. ” ~ Last Speech of Hubert H. Humphrey
“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” ~ Mahatma Ghandi
“Any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members — the last, the least, the littlest.” ~Cardinal Roger Mahony, In a 1998 letter, Creating a Culture of Life
The greatness of America is in how it treats its weakest members: the elderly, the infirm, the handicapped, the underprivileged, the unborn. ~Bill Federer
“A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members and among the most vulnerable are surely the unborn and the dying,” ~Pope John Paul II
So, just for today, I will express gratefulness for what I do have in my life and for the lessons that are being learned along life’s journey. Part of that journey involves the business of Linnice Collectibles. Entrepreneurship is difficult because you don’t know how much money you will make; it is not a steady income. A new business takes a while to turn a profit. Because of these uncertainties, small business owners often lament the taxes they pay the government. The appeal of the Republican Party, which promises to help business grow by lowering taxes, can be great. However, these promises are usually pitted against Democratic policies that would benefit society’s weakest. As the business grows, I must always remember that it is a privilege to be a business owner. Taxes are what I willingly give the government in exchange for a better society for all. We cannot forget those in the greatest need.