We all deserve kindness.
An older Black gentleman stands at the end of a freeway off-ramp. When the light turns red, he slowly shuffles down the hill toward the line of waiting cars. He doesn’t stop to ask for money. Instead, he walks past each car holding his “Please help” sign until the light turns green and the cars begin pulling away. Every once in a while, a hand waves him over and presses money into his hand. I’ve seen him there for about a year. I make sure to get in the lane closest to him so I can give him a few dollars. He always takes the money and grabs my hand as if I’m saving him from drowning. I stare into his eyes so he knows I see him. Perhaps I am saving him from drowning.
He doesn’t know his gentle smile has saved me many times. His kindness makes me happy. Each time I see him, I wonder about his story. I wonder if his family knows he’s homeless. Does he have children? Grandchildren? A wife? I don’t ask because it’s none of my business.
If I can bring some sunshine to his spirit, I’ll do it. No one grows up wanting to be homeless. Yet here he is every day on this off-ramp silently making his trek up and down a hill hoping for a little kindness. Everyone needs kindness, and no one deserves to feel invisible.
We all deserve to raise our children without fear.
The current political climate might say differently, but people generally want the same things. Every parent wants to raise their children in a carefree environment. No parents should worry about whether their child will be gunned down in a place of learning or in their own neighborhood. Parents want to believe their children are safe playing outside, walking to a friend’s house, or sitting in a classroom.
Every day parents give their child “the talk” in the hopes they will make good choices about their sexuality. No parent wants to sit their child down to give them the other talk—the one that goes, “If you’re stopped by the police, do what they say. Don’t talk back.” Too many parents make this hard decision. Do they tell their children about a world that will hate them because of their skin color, or do they stay silent and pray their children to adulthood? How can these parents not die a little inside as they tell their children about racism, knowing they are killing their innocence and forcing them to endure hatred they’re not ready to face? Every parent wants their children to have a carefree childhood.
Unfortunately, for some parents, keeping their child safe means awakening them to the reality that their skin color might mean their death. No parent wants to be Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin; or Samira Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice; or Charmaine Edwards, the mother of Jordan Edwards. While we may parent differently, we love our children the same. I cannot imagine the pain these mothers must feel, knowing they’ll never see their children again.
We all want to feel safe.
Recently, two people were gunned down by police while they were in their own homes. Botham Jean was murdered as he sat on his couch eating ice cream and watching television. Atatiana Jefferson was murdered as she grabbed her gun and walked toward her window to investigate someone in her backyard. She was shot through that window.
Where are we safe if not in our own homes?
I wonder how many times these senseless murders need to happen before things change. When are the police going to be held accountable for making the lives and homes of Black people unsafe? White people take for granted that they’re safe in their own homes. Black people no longer have this luxury. Everyone deserves not to live in fear in their own homes.
We all want to provide for ourselves and our families.
We want to go to work and do our jobs. We want to be treated fairly. We want our colleagues and bosses to believe we are worthy of respect and consideration. No one grows up wanting to be sexually harassed, abused, or disrespected in a place where we’re simply trying to earn a living.
We should never have to endure a workplace where we feel overlooked and underappreciated. We shouldn’t have to work twice as hard to earn half as much. We shouldn’t feel like going to work is akin to entering a war zone, where we feel attacked, isolated, and betrayed for speaking up against wrongdoings. No one should have to endure a job where our achievements are overlooked. Everyone should be treated fairly. Everyone deserves to feel as if their contributions make a difference, and we should be rewarded accordingly.
We all want to love freely.
Love manifests itself in a myriad of ways, and that should be okay. We each deserve to love in whatever way our heart tells us. No love between consenting adults should be considered a sin. Instead, the sin should lie in the judgment people make because they believe only one love counts in the eyes of their god. No one should be denied their heart.
Many of us go through life never experiencing love. Fear and hatred should never be the reasons behind anyone being alone. If your sexuality isn’t considered the norm, that should not mean your love is any less valid. There are too many lonely people, and this loneliness is killing us. We go for days without another person’s touch, and we need that connection. Everyone deserves to love and be loved.
We all want our ancestry validated.
I am a descendant of enslaved people. My ancestors participated in the Great Migration in the early 1900s. I am here because of their sacrifices, their blood, and their suffering. The legacy of slavery in this country shouldn’t be ignored. While white people proudly share their Irish American or Italian American heritage, Black people are still shouting for our own ancestors to be heard.
My Native American friends speak of the pain their ancestors endured—the pain they still endure. If we listen, we’ll hear the story of a proud people who lived on this land and called it Mother Earth. They respected the bounty she provided, and they prayed to her. The descendants of these people will tell you of the massacres and the legacy of Indigenous Peoples in this country. Too often, their sacrifices are overlooked. Too often, their hardships are downplayed because this country won’t admit the part it has played in their pain.
We must listen to the stories of immigrants as they speak about the hardships they faced just trying to get to this country. They love America. They call themselves Americans even though they don’t have the piece of paper that says they’re citizens. They have embraced this country and everything it has to offer. Who are we to say they don’t belong? This country is great because of every person who lives here. Its richness is a result of people gathering from around the world make it to call America their home. This patchwork of human beings should be celebrated. Everyone deserves that validation.
We all want our pain acknowledged.
The origin of that pain may differ, but we carry that burden. Perhaps we lost a parent, and that parent loved and encouraged us to be the person we are today. Maybe that parent abandoned us and their death created an even wider hole in our spirit, making us feel abandoned all over again. Perhaps our body causes us pain, and that pain colors our very existence. Everything we see is through a prism of never-ending agony.
No one knows the pain we endure. Most of the time, we submit to that pain in silence and simply try to make it through another day. That pain manifests itself in many ways. We’re angry. We’re depressed. We’re mute. We isolate ourselves. We blame ourselves, which makes us feel guilty. We blame others, which makes us feel vengeful.
Pain is never a one-time deal. We suffer throughout our lives, and as we grow older, that pain becomes a part of who we are and how we exist in the world. Many times, our pain is invisible. While no one can escape pain, we all deserve validation that our pain is real.
We all want acceptance.
We all remember growing up wanting to be part of the in-crowd. As children, we struggled to discover who we wanted to be. We were just trying to find someplace to belong. Even as adults, we still search for where we belong. We want to find people who will accept us. It’s too exhausting, too frustrating to change so others will like us. Yet we do it. We’ll hide the parts of ourselves we think people won’t like and emphasize those parts that will help us pass some imaginary test, all in an effort to belong.
We did it as children, and we do it as adults. Unfortunately, cliques don’t go away when we grow up. They’re everywhere. Look around any social group or any workplace, and you will quickly see groups formed based on perceived likeness. But within those groups, you will find people who have traveled far from their authentic selves. They’re lost. They just don’t know it. We all deserve to be ourselves.
Why is it so hard for people just to live? Everyone wants to be happy. We truly do want the same things. We forget this when we focus on our differences. We need to remember everyone is trying to figure out this life. Everyone has challenges. Everyone struggles. Everyone is simply human.
Originally published in OHF Magazine Issue 1
Top photo by Tiago Felipe Ferreira on Unsplash