I was going to start this essay with the phrase “Before I started at CitySquare, I thought that poverty…”, but there are two fundamental errors with this. 1) I yawned reading it. 2) I didn’t think about poverty. I ignored poverty because, you know, ignoring problems makes them go away. Except when it doesn’t, which is all the time.
So there I was, just an entitled college-aged ginger kid strutting in the door of 511 like I owned the place. If you could have read my thoughts that day, you would’ve heard things like “CitySquare needs me,” “I’m sure it’ll be fine that I parked in 7-Eleven’s 15-minute customers only parking spot,” and “I’m going to be the Batman of interns.” In short, I was wrong, super wrong, and unfortunately wrong, respectively.
Shortly, I moved my car, and then my journey started. I’ve stumbled more than any of the development team would’ve probably liked, but they were always prepared to correct my misconceptions and errors, which I greatly appreciated. Without that, I might still be thinking thoughts one and three up there.
To keep it short, I came in subconsciously thinking that I was going to pour in to people because I obviously had so much to give. The exact opposite was true. I came in with almost nothing to give but my time and attention, but I learned more from a half-hour trip to the grocery store with Wendy, a ten-minute car ride conversation with Laureen about the toxicity of an “Us versus them” mentality, realizing just how necessary sending thank you notes is, an interview with a man who spent twenty years addicted to crack and eleven homeless who is now gainfully employed an engaged to be married, and the story of a woman who has volunteered every moment she could over the last five years despite having two separate strokes than I have in nineteen years of passing open and desperate hearts and hands in the street because I was too self-absorbed to care.
Poverty isn’t a hole you dig yourself. It’s an unfathomably gigantic pit with an infinite number of different holes leading down. Some you can walk into, but others drag you down by no fault of your own. Despite the number of ways in, there are only a few ladders out. As it turns out, throwing canned food from the lip of the pit doesn’t do much good.
It’s difficult, and it requires boldness, an open mind and a caring heart, but the true solution is getting off our entitled butts and climbing down the ladder to offer a helping hand to the men and women who can’t find their way to it.
It’s not “Us versus them,” “Us and them,” or even “Us for them.” It’s simply “We.” The phrase gets thrown around a lot around here, but the longer I’m here the more I realize that we truly are all wealthy and poor in our own ways. We can all learn from each other, and we who are more fortunate monetarily are wandering in pits of our own. That man sleeping under an umbrella on the pavement might be the hand you need.
I’ve been humbled, I’ve been blessed, and I’ve been taught. Those are not the three things I was expecting to be in those blanks, but maybe that’s exactly why I was here. I’m sorry I was no Bruce Wayne, but thank you for showing me I wasn’t.
Caleb Bishop, Summer 2015