Opinions

Gratitude over Guilt

-Charlotte Walker, contributing writer

This past Saturday, I declared that I would have a day for myself. I slept in, cooked a good breakfast, cleaned my house, and even had time to bake a loaf of pumpkin bread. I watched Netflix for an hour or two and finally decided that it was time to get out of the house for a while. I found myself at one of my favorite spots in Jackson—Sneaky Beans. I splurged and bought a fancy latte, nestled in to a cozy corner chair, and started typing away at my homework. An hour into my homework, three-fourths of the way through my now-lukewarm latte, and with a significant portion of my newest Spotify playlist conquered, my motivation was squeezed out upon the entrance of two men into my nice, quiet study room. I didn’t know it yet, but there was nowhere near enough room for me, the two men, my motivation for anything regarding school, and my “me time.”

I’ve spent quite a bit of time volunteering with organizations that help people who aren’t like me, either in background, experience, or lifestyle. I’ve spent several summers in rough neighborhoods in inner cities around the South. Because of this experience, it didn’t take very long for me to know that these men were homeless. They weren’t wearing rags, but the oversized clothes they wore were outdated, stained, and saturated with a displeasing stench. One of the men, probably in his late 50s, entered with a large, tattered army green backpack, with ornate duct tape, bungee cords, and carabineers. He carried four empty tin soup cans, an oversized jacket, and a cup of steaming coffee. The other, much younger, maybe not quite 30, carried nothing but his cup of coffee. They sat exactly opposite from me, so I could easily sneak a glance at them when they weren’t looking. I muted my music but kept my earphones in so I could hear what they were talking about. It became apparent that they had only known each other for a short period of time, but that didn’t stop them from talking about whatever came to their minds. I continued to play around on my computer, feeling more and more self-conscious of all of my “things” and the apparent lack of their “things.” Here I was, plucking away on my thousand-dollar computer, with an expensive phone sitting next to me, drinking an overpriced latte, while these two men, who obviously haven’t showered in a few days, sat across from me drawing on tin cans and shooting the breeze.

The younger guy finally asked about the older man’s plans for the tin cans, and I’m so glad he did; I was getting quite curious. The answer was not at all what I was expecting. The older man was going to cut the cans into a rather elaborate design and fasten them together to make a model UFO. I was hooked at this point—this guy was interesting. The men then entered into a detailed conversation about UFOs, which somehow led to engineering, solar energy, and things that were far too complicated for my mind to grasp. I managed to keep my jaw from dropping. These men were smart—odd, yes—but still smart. They were talking about concepts and ideas that were above the average person’s pay grade. Soon, the men wrapped up their conversation. The younger guy left leaving only the older man and me in the room together. As he gathered his belongings, he looked me directly in the eyes and smiled. I returned the smile and told him to have a nice day. I wanted to empty my wallet and give him every penny I had, but I didn’t. I simply offered him a few kind words and we went on with our days.

It was in those few moments that I questioned what I was doing. What was I really doing? Here I was, wanting for nothing, where my biggest concern was deciding where I was going to do my grocery shopping later that evening. I was sitting across from two men whose lives, I can only imagine, are radically different from mine. They have probably lived through experiences that I, God-willing, will never even have to dream of. For a while that afternoon, I felt extremely guilty. I was disgusted by the expensive MacBook Pro sitting on my lap. I despised the fact that I had a somewhat new vehicle, a nice home, and a refrigerator full of food, some of which might even spoil before I would eat it.

Then, I stopped being disgusted with myself. I realized that just because I have some nice things and I’m getting a college degree, doesn’t mean that I should feel guilty. I think it means that I have a responsibility. I have the responsibility to help others. I have the duty to use what I have been blessed with: my college degree, money, home, car, or maybe my experiences, to enhance the life of someone else. I’m not sure what it looks like to use what I have for the benefit of someone else. I don’t think guilt over material objects is quite it, though. I think we, as a generation of people who have access to practically anything we could want should be intentional in using the things we have as tools to impact and improve the lives of those around us.

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