Once a week, I volunteer at an elementary after-school program that targets vulnerable at-risk kids. Once I week, I have to take a bus from my university to the elementary school. Once a week, I ride that bus through Hastings Street–the “Skid Row” of Vancouver.
And (at least) once a week, my heart breaks.
I found that I had adopted a habit if listening and watching those around me… both those on the street that I see through the bus window, as well as those who sit across from me on the bus. And weirdly, it isn’t the individuals on the street, often with tents and shopping carts, that often takes my attention (despite it breaking my heart time and time again). But rather, it is the actions and reactions of the individuals beside me that I find myself watching over and over.
Some people look–either with pity or wonder, or even a bit of curiousity. But a lot of people don’t. They look down. They look aside. It’s as if they don’t want to see. To know. To care.
Once I rode with a bunch of kids on a school trip. As we were passing by the worst parts of Hastings, I prepared myself to hear various slurs and offensive humor that kids often find entertaining. But instead, all I heard was a single statement from one kid to another. “Don’t look them in the eye.”
As I made it to the elementary school, I looked at many of the kids I work with, and wondered. We’re not scared to look children in the eye. So why are we scared to look those on the street in the eye? When we see a child hurting, often our first instinct is to help them in any way that we can. But when we see an adult hurting and asking for help, our first instinct (for many) is to shrink away and silently pass. Some people may say that “that’s different.” But how different is it really?
During the after-school program, there is a time where I sit down with some of the kids to help them do homework. A lot of them show frustration and anger at their inability to ‘get it.’ But we push on. I push on–despite my panic. Why do I panic? Because time and time again, I look into these kids eyes, and I see their feelings of being lost. Defeated. Hopeless. I so desperately want to tell them that they’ll be fine. They’ll do fine. That they’re not a lost cause. I try to be there for them–to know that I’m there to help. But during the times I do, the only response I typically get is “I’m stupid. I’m not smart. I can’t do it. It’s impossible.”
We don’t usually see this side of people. The vulnerable. The open. The honest. We don’t usually think about other’s feelings, past what we see on the outside.
We all make mistakes. We all hurt. We all are broken. It’s just that some people’s brokenness shows more than others. But does that necessarily justify putting one human begin below another?
Look up, and look out. See the world as it is, for this is the world we live in. Don’t let your preferences keep you in a bubble, but rather, let the world’s realities pop you. Touch you. Change you. We were made with the ability to create human conversations. We were made to interact. We were made to connect.