Last summer was a blur. If you think really hard, I'm sure you can imagine why. I remember the very basic outline of what happened, but details seem to be nonexistent. However, there is one moment that sticks out.
I was driving down Poplar with my ridiculous looking Kroger brand sunglasses on, my iPod blaring Dave Matthews Band, and my skin searing from a long day on the lifeguard stand when I saw a homeless man standing on the sidewalk with a sign. I can't quite remember what the sign said, but it was, I believe, some sort of plea for assistance.
I looked at the man, then I looked at myself. And I mean I really looked at myself.
It was upwards of one hundred degrees outside. I had access to an entire wardrobe, one from which I chose a pair of airy shorts and a sleeveless tank top. My homeless counterpart, on the other hand, had but one outfit to his name: a pair of long, seemingly suffocating green pants, and a heavy t-shirt.
Summer days can grow monotonous. Life seems to be packed with routinely uneventful afternoons come halfway through vacation. That being said, I was being sufficiently entertained by my high-end, two hundred dollar iPod. My homeless counterpart, on the other hand, was forced to stand around for hours on end, hoping, praying, that someone would stop to help him fill his stomach. I enjoyed the entertainment of my iPod, something I took, and still take, for granted, while this man was in a position of extreme, inexplicable monotony just so that he could maybe, just maybe, survive.
I then looked down at my cell phone, which was lying on the glove compartment to my right. I saw the screen light up, for I had just received a text message. I don't remember what it said. But I now note that it could quite possibly have been a request to go eat out, a Facebook notification, or perhaps my father letting me know what we would be having for dinner that night. I was likely receiving news of my next meal, while this man was literally starving to death under the unmerciful sun.
I wore shorts that I picked from a drawer. I shielded my eyes with sunglasses I bought from the neighborhood department store. I enjoyed the music from an overpriced hunk of metal. And, somehow, despite all of my blessings, I took all of these things for granted. It was the typical middle-class American car ride. But it's not one I wanted to be a part of.
I began to think about how sick and materialistic I had become. I began to compare my life, my access to various luxuries that I, unfortunately, take for granted, to this man's life.
An idea came to me.
I thought about how interesting it would be to rid myself of these unnecessary luxuries for merely a month. Suddenly, I had this overwhelming urge to toss aside my electronics so that I could taste but a drop of what this homeless man was forced to experience every day. I figured it would be a learning experience, one that would make me value everything that I'm blessed to have. I also noted that it would make for a fantastic article, one about society's dependence on electronics and my valiant victory over my personal addiction.
I wanted to do it, I really did.
But I couldn't.
I still can't.
I can't let go of my cell phone.
I can't let go of my Facebook.
I can't let go of the things that I so take for granted.
I can't let myself let go because, quite frankly, I'm addicted. I'm addicted to social media. I find myself opening up Facebook every single time I open my computer, without fail. I find myself checking my phone every thirty seconds, if not more frequently than that. I find myself scrambling to the nearest set of speakers so that I can enjoy my music.
I do all of this while that homeless man stands alone, suffering. I do all of this without keeping in mind that I've been absolutely blessed to have the shirt on my back, and the roof over my head. It's not who I want to be.
I've strongly considered letting go of these material pleasures on several occasions, but each time, without fail, I've been awoken by the pathetic reality that is the current state of the world. Even if I wanted to give up my cell phone for an extended period of time, I simply couldn't. Let's step away from my addiction and self control issues and focus on the world around us.
Without a phone, how would I know when to work? Without a phone, how could my dad check up on me? Without a phone in today's day and age, how could I survive?
Everything has become so technologically centered that we seem to have forgotten the natural, mind blowing pleasures of life. I'm not removing myself from these aforementioned offenders; I am one. And I can't stand the fact that I often waste my entire day rotting away in front of a television when there's an entire world to be explored just beyond my front door.
If I said I know where I'm going with this right now, I'd be lying through my teeth. I suppose what I'm getting at is the fact that it's just so depressing that we've become so dependent on material things. I find it so despicable that I can't let myself delete a simple social media profile. How sad is it that letting go of Facebook would make me feel like a part of me is missing? It's pathetic.
I still want to experience what it's like to take on a few of the hardships of this aforementioned homeless man. For as much as I'd love to consistently appreciate the little things in life, I simply forget to do it most of the time.
I just walked into my kitchen to make a bowl of cereal. I got the Cocoa Crispies out, poured them into my Froot Loop bowl (clearly I'm not a loyal cereal eater), and headed to the fridge to grab the milk. Suddenly, the ever-so-terrifying thought of finding an empty bottle of milk rushed over me. I opened up the fridge door, held my breath, and was delighted to find a brand new carton sitting on the bottom shelf. I thought about it for a second and realized that I usually open up new carton after new carton without stopping to note that somebody went out and got me that milk. My father always makes sure that we have what we need, be it milk or money. I know that. But I can't say that I appreciate it enough. I can't say that I consciously note how grateful I am for being so blessed.
It's funny how one moment can change your train of thought if you stop and take the time to actually think about what you're observing.
I don't know what happened to that homeless man. I don't know if he's still alive, or if he's still struggling to get by. I don't know him and I'll likely never see him again. I can assure you, he doesn't know me either. But he has changed me. Though only a slight change at this point, a change nonetheless.
This year, I've been big on journeys. So I suppose it's nothing to embark on another one. I'm going to try to appreciate the little things in life. I'm going to try to bring myself to a point where I can give up some of the unnecessary material luxuries in my life. Now, in no way am I saying that using my phone less often puts me in the same shoes as someone who is unfortunate enough to be homeless, but I'm still going to try to find a way to lower myself to a point in which I can better appreciate all of the things I've been blessed with in my life.
I'm lucky. And, chances are, considering you're reading this on a computer, likely your computer, you're pretty damn lucky as well.
We all have trials in life; some more than others. We all have obstacles we must try to conquer. And sometimes it may seem like everything in the world is plotting against you at once. But we're damn lucky. We're lucky to have a couch to nap on and a TV to watch. We're lucky that we don't have to go to bed hungry. We may not have everything in the world that we want, but we have everything we need.
I can't imagine I'll ever be homeless. I'd like to think I'm heading places in life. But that doesn't mean I can't try to draw life lessons from all different kinds of people. That doesn't mean I can't pull over and give that homeless man five dollars to fill his stomach. We can learn something from everything in this world.
This homeless man taught me a lot of things with a cardboard sign, baggy pants, and less than impressive diction. This homeless man taught me that everything in life is worth appreciating.
I hope that one day I'll get to the point where I can give a lot of this crap up. When I get there, if I get there, I hope some of you will join me.