What’s your problem? What’s your passion? Where do they come together?
This morning, at 5 A.M, I found myself sitting in the Kansas City airport drinking a burnt cup of coffee and staring at the myriad of different travelers waiting around for early morning flights. I’ve always loved airports. They’re filled with the most diverse and interesting people. I truly love just sitting and watching as people walk by displaying different clothes, demeanors, and cultural backgrounds. In fact, a very small part of me believes that it would be an incredible experience for an entire airport to just be put on standstill for a few days–for every passenger to be forced to sit and talk with the person beside them for a few hours. Somehow, I think strides towards creating a more understanding and humane world might be made. Then again, I tend to be a bit too idealistic.
But then again, am I? As I was sitting there this morning, all I could think about was a question posed to me this past weekend at the International YVC (Youth Volunteer Corps) summit. What’s your problem? What’s your passion?
About a month ago, I decided to serve a year as a YVC Americorps member with HON. My main role is to do outreach and recruitment to youth–engaging them in different opportunities our agency has for youth service. Youth and service. It really couldn’t be a better fit. So, the past four weeks have been a whirlwind of meetings, trainings, school visits, and presentations. I’ve picked green beans from our urban garden. I’ve hauled buckets of gravel up a Warner Park hiking trail. I’ve been caught in the middle of a hallway fist fight, been put in charge of keys to random rooms of schools, been mistaken for a high school student numerous times, and have had the opportunity to get to know the city of Nashville in a whole new way. I am encountering different ideas about religion, politics, education, government, and lifestyle. And I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t stretching me a bit.
But of all the things I have witnessed thus far, there’s one image I can’t seem to get out of my head.
The clouds, even on rainy days, paint the sky above the Titans stadium and the Vietnam Veterans bridge. It was an almost breathtaking moment the first morning I drove down the hill towards the HON office on Peabody street. From where our office sits, you can see the city of Nashville, the Batman building standing tall above the other office buildings surrounding it. While the view has not ceased to induce in me a sense of gratefulness, My eyes have begun to notice a new site each morning. He is not much to look at. His hair is long, white, and ragged. Pulled back at the nape of his neck, it lays flat against a faded yellow shirt. In his hand, which is brown and leathered, he holds a cigarette. One might expect him to be one of the Contributor salesman–selling a newspaper to make a living–but he holds up nothing but his cigarette and a second empty hand. He waves, and I wave back. And I wonder why it is that he stands there alone each morning–waving at me. And I wonder if anyone actually sees him. If anyone has ever taken the time to see him. And I wonder if my wave even means anything if day after day he’s still standing there waving back.
And that’s my problem. And it’s a problem that I believe is beginning to turn into a passion. People need to be seen. They need to be acknowledged. There are way too many people in the world who are divided, when we are all connected by the mere fact that we live and breath and will all one day die. We are all human. Yet, we define ourselves based on economic status, lifestyle, and “success.” We refuse to actually see people. It’s an injustice not new, but one we must continue to fight.
The kid that packed food boxes with me at Second Harvest today needs to know that he is not defined by the score he got on his ACT. He needs to know that he is not defined by the language his parents speak or the government housing neighborhood he lives in. As we wore hair nets and gloves, and put together 2 lb. bags of graham cookies that looked like spider man, I asked him what he would do if he had unlimited resources and unlimited time. He lit up–as if no one had ever asked him a serious question and really wanted to know his answer. And I was astounded by this eighteen year old youth–by his ideas, his maturity, and his desire to pursue something others were telling him might not be possible. And I was astounded by the way that he lit up when I told him that he shouldn’t settle for something just because of a test score, lack of money, or lack of support. Someone needed to actually see him. Later, he confessed to me that he watched Les Mis recently and got goose bumps. It had made him feel something inside–he said he saw something beautiful in the music. Now, tell me that’s not a kid who has potential to do something great.
As he drove off, he shot me a peace sign from the car window. I waved, and couldn’t help but laugh.
Here’s the thing I’m discovering about myself. I am passionate about helping others realize their worth. Their potential. Their dreams. Because as idealistic as it sounds, I truly do believe that passionate people can make sustainable changes in their communities. But I think the first step involves us taking the time to actually see the people around us. At Walmart. In the McD’s drive through line. In the nice hotel or at the gala event. Everyone desires to be seen.
So, let me ask you– what’s your problem? what’s your passion? And is it something you can do anything about?