Essay, Pages 4 (812 words)
I like to think of my life as a series of images and memories that have defined me in many ways; good and bad. Some of these memories and events I’d like to block out, and some I gladly recall with joy. My parents, in an effort to somehow freeze time, have created a photographic history of many of these events or memories from first footsteps to my first day at school. I share with them the remembrances of these milestones, but my recollection of some other happenings are now added to my overall memory pages, nevertheless different, but, still firsts.
Being on a national cheer team and competing at events throughout the country left me with memories and experiences that I cherish to this day. The friends I made are forever in my mind; and the visits to the “exotic” cities of Columbus, Baltimore, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Orlando, Cincinnati, and Worcester may not be points of destination thrill seekers may choose to spend their vacation, but it opened my eyes to another world.
Between events I would walk the city streets and witness urban life through the eyes of a suburban kid. To witness the plight of the homeless, and asking for money was a first. Being surrounded by buildings more vertical than horizontal was a first for me, as well as being surrounded by people that looked less like me.
My sheltered suburban life up till that point was limited to shopping centers, movie theatres and whatever else suburbia had to offer.
Vacations were travelling to “family” destinations with my brothers, sister and parents to usual locations such as amusement parks, beaches and such. I had never given much thought to what it’d might be like to not have what we have, nice home, clothes, food, a place to live. It was incomprehensible to imagine living on the street and wondering where your next meal was coming from.
People coming up to us and asking for money, I thought at first how rude is that, “why don’t you just get a job,” but it was in hindsight my first experience with human suffering. What I soon realized was a naivety that would eventually open my eyes to another form of human suffering common to the city, drug addiction and mental illness. In many cases people would be asking for money not to be used for food but for drugs. We would offer them food we had or offered gladly to purchase but they would kindly refuse asking for cash instead. At this time in my life, I had never considered the plight of the poor.
I had certainly read stories about the homeless and poor. We had in school raised money to help the needy and discussed the homeless and their plight and it’s not like I had never been to Buffalo, but those trips were carefully scripted door to door. The street level experience versus the drive by or fly overs at 30000 feet were something that I was experiencing for the first time; an awakening of sorts. How could such people be happy living like this? How could this happen in a country such as ours?
The world around me had changed but for some of my teammates they seemingly were immune to the street people they encountered. They with more experience than me would say” just keep walking, don’t make eye contact”. “I don’t give them anything because they’ll just keep begging”. Logical it seemed. Just ignore the problem. An easy fix, right? My gut or instinct compelled me to think differently. How could anyone with any compassion ignore the suffering going on around them. I wanted to say something to my friends for what I sensed as them being cold and callous, but felt they may see it as too critical. My friends were well my friends, and I didn’t want to offend them. However, my sense of right and wrong that my parents instilled in me from an early age was eating away at me and I felt like just screaming.
Winning a National Cheer Championship was a proud first however these other experiences or events shaped my life perhaps in a more profound way than any successes in cheerleading have. The faces, places, and events are part of me now and I am forever changed in how I now view the world. These moments in time have opened my eyes to how poverty and the dark side of the human condition are not experienced by most and if so in many cases ignored or in the minds of some are in a state of denial. Perhaps, if everyone had a chance to live with, change places or get to know those who are suffering perhaps a better understanding and greater empathy of this part of our society would happen and with it kindness might follow.