“That man is always in a bad mood!” I said, annoyed.
Brando smiled back and, with a you-should-know-better-than-to-say-that look, he responded: “Well, I would be, too, if I had to sleep on the pavement every night.”
Aaaaand that is how I was promptly and swiftly put. in. my. place.
Touché Brando. You win.
For the last month, I’ve been volunteering at Glide, a non-profit that, among other things, has one of the biggest free daily meals programs in San Francisco: they serve over 500 people per meal three times a day.
Once a week, I join other volunteers and help serve breakfast to poor and low-income residents of the Tenderloin neighborhood. I’ve found it to be very rewarding thus far, which is why I continue to go back, and Brando, the Free Meals Program Manager, and everyone else I’ve met has been wonderful.
Glide’s clients, as they are referred to, range from being quiet and distant, to bubbly and outgoing, to pretty aggressive at times. No matter the circumstances or the mood, as a volunteer you are always supposed to have a smile on your face, remembering you are there to serve and help alleviate even one small part of their day. This, of course, is sometimes easier said than done, especially when you are mistreated for no apparent reason other than a client’s crankiness.
But, isn’t that a human syndrome? Having a bad attitude or being in a bad mood has nothing to do with poverty; it has more to do with ungratefulness.
Now, before sitting down to write this, I debated whether that last sentence above should see the light of day. Since Brando put me in my place, I’ve been asking myself: can I expect someone that lives in dire circumstances to feel grateful at all? Is it fair for me to ask that question, considering I can buy food whenever my stomach desires –and many times I stuff myself guiltlessly with it—and that I sleep on a memory foam mattress that feels like I’m floating on a cloud?
By all intents and purposes, I’m disgustingly spoiled. Therefore, no: I don’t feel like I can blame anyone else for having a shitty attitude about their misfortunes.
Yet, that also doesn’t sound totally right. Blame them? Definitely not. Hold them accountable? Maybe. Let’s think about this… I always write about how the only thing we humans can control in any situation and at any given moment is our attitude, which determines how we react to everything. I don’t wish poverty or misfortune on anyone, not even if I may believe they “deserve” it – It doesn’t really matter what I think someone else deserves, since I am always limited to my own narrow perspective and, therefore, I do not feel like I am in a place to judge appropriately.
However, without judging, I really think most of us can try harder on a daily basis. Maybe not Glide’s clients. Maybe by simply showing up at Glide, they are doing everything they can in that moment, and I respect that. But most of us aren’t doing everything we can do. Most of us aren’t giving all that we can give.
Most of us need to start caring a whole lot more if we plan to make a difference before we’re gone. By no means do I think I’m better than anyone for volunteering, and I sincerely hope it’s not coming across that way. It’s quite the opposite, actually: since starting to volunteer, I’ve realized how much I’ve been slacking and how much of me and of my time could still be donated to help alleviate someone else’s pain.
Join me? Do something, anything! There are so many possibilities. Just helping one person might be all you can do. If that is the case, that will be enough.
Photo by: Belén Alemán / Seen at Moka Coffee in San Francisco, CA, USA