Friday, November 28, 2008

Kick in the Pants

So lately the news has had this story about a young boy whose last wish was for people to donate to the homeless. It was a heartwarming story of courage and selflessness with the end result being that the child died in his mother's arms and swarms of Americans donated stuff to the homeless. In this holiday season and these times of economic uncertainty it was a lovely story of hope. That said, it always irks me that it takes a dying child's wish or some such tragedy to get people to open their eyes and see what goes on daily within our nation. The news reported that they had hundreds of phone calls asking how they could donate. Ahem, do people really not know what kinds of agencies need help?

Okay, okay, I'm a social worker, I know. I know where every homeless shelter is, I know stats on the number of people that are homeless, I know what every homeless shelter has on their wish lists. I know most every community resources available within a 50 mile radius of my hometown. But, do people really not know? Do they really have no clue how some people live day to day, standing in line for a bed, standing in line for a soup kitchen, ducking into food pantries hoping their neighbors don't see their bags of non-perishable food from church shelves.

The city I work in has 6-7 homeless shelters which have been overflowing since summer. The pennies people dump in the salvation army bucket at the doors of malls aren't going to cut it this year. Agencies are overwhelmed by the number of requests for help. Somehow this is all okay as far as legislators are concerned. Few policies have been made or changed to help these populations particularly considering our economic climate. Outreach workers visit people who live under bridges in this city, scout out those who are living in the woods and along the river. And, the rest of the population sits in relative luxury, in one of the wealthiest states in the country, concerned about losing their mcmansions, obsessing over providing their children with the best christmas ever. It's the children that get it, the kids that see what goes on and want to donate their gifts, whose last wish is that those who go without get something this year and it's the adults who may follow their lead of their children or decide to ignore the issue.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Singing Through Pain

She was in pre-med, her family had refugee status from a country in Africa. She was so excited that night in the living room with her friends that Obama was going to win. Then she collapsed, she bled out, and she died. No reason. No clue, no previous medical history.

Her family traveled most of the night from another state to see her. They cried out in anguish over this beautiful girl, their daughter, their sister, who looked as though she slept, her dark skin showing none of the patterns of death, none of the pallor. They huddled together, crying out in their native tongue over this horrible loss and I left the room to give them their time.

I sat in the hall, listening to a language I did not understand but knowing exactly what they said. And then, suddenly, there was singing, a beautiful song that wound from one voice to the next, each member having a verse, then singing together again. They sang and they sang, giving voice to their pain in the most beautiful way I have ever heard, in a dialect only they could understand. I could only imagine that they sang their daughter and sister's spirit back to their homeland, to their ancestors, to a place of peace.

I am so humbled to have been there to witness this, so privileged to have heard this family sing through their pain.