My little sister is an elementary-school teacher in Fort Worth, TX. She works at a school in a severely under-served district (this is a kind way of saying “a bit of a ghetto”) teaching bilingual math and science to destitute children. She related this anecdote to me when we caught up over dinner earlier this week.
One of the little girls [in my class] was stuck staying really late, like 8pm while i was grading papers, and even though she doesn’t live too far away, I offered to drive her home and get her into her house. We walked up to her apartment building (most of the housing in the area in subsidized) and her door is unlocked, no one is home, and she said ‘Okay, thanks Ms. Gonzales!’ Her mother was already at her second job and I told her that we should get her some food and spotted a crockpot that looked like it had been made for the family and said “Look, your mom left you some soup!” and got her a bowl, but when I got to the counter I saw that there were bugs just crawling all over the food left out and soup and everything. [My student] didn’t seem to notice or care, this was just her life, but it took me everything i had not to break down and cry right then and there. I sometimes get upset when my students don’t do their homework but have to remember that this is normal life for most of them. I asked [another student] why he didn’t get his homework done and he said it was because the ‘lights went out at home again last night.’
This sort of thing slaps you in the face with context. “Less fortunate” doesn’t usually surmise the issue all too well. I was lucky enough to have a loving mother and father who had the resources to get educations, steady jobs, and the mental fortitude to deal with a child like me (I am not as good of a person as my sister). I feel a good deal of the time stressed out about being ‘under my earning potential’ and should be slapped for that when I’ve never been forced to deal with eating contagion or never being able to pay the utility bills. I am a lucky person with decent genes, a career and future, and beautiful friends & family, and I am thankful as all hell for those things. I have this magical thing called leisure time that doesn’t exist for far too many people in this country, let alone the world. Let us not forget that we all start off in different places in life and that most of the problems you have (for those of you reading this at least) are not anything like what a great deal of people in this first-world country, the greatest on the planet, have. While I lament that we mostly forget to be thankful for the little-and-not-so-little things in our lives that make them comfortable on more days of the year than not, it is a delight to see people taking a moment to think about what they have. Be mindful of your consumerism, of your complaints, and of your relationships; may you be so lucky as to have them forever.