Today I went to the city, visited my old workplace, saw some old friends, noticed the things that were new, the things that were old, and things I never noticed before. I was reminded of my life back in the states, the things I did, the things I aspired to, the issues I left behind. I was on the westside of Chicago, where previously, I had been too scared to walk through, very privileged to work in, and completely enamored by. My first day at work, I was stopped on the way to the train and warned by a local passerby, "You be careful walking around these streets," he said. I was simultaneously terrified and secretly thrilled. Today I walked down the same street but it had been transformed. Gardens in the empty plots, children walking down the street, men in neon green patrolling the parking lots, and no one pulling me aside to warn me to be careful.
I know now I didn't need to move abroad to be challenged, to be awed. I think that's what the people I worked for were trying to tell me. Today someone suggested to me that I deny myself the high paying salary and security of a big shot job. I didn't have the heart to tell him that he was preaching a mute point. I think no matter what I will end up doing something community based and public oriented, it's what I'm inspired by. Ironically, I no longer see poverty the way I used to. Poverty alleviation is no longer just "the right and honorable thing to do." When I worked in Lawndale, I saw poverty as an injustice, the clinic as a savior. I saw people in poverty as special and the world as unfair. Now I see people as people and poverty as merely a characteristic. I find myself saying over and over again, "it is what it is." No need to judge every situation as good or bad, it just is. Everyone's situation is different. There are perks and cons of being rich, there are perks and cons of being poor. The human condition is universal. Poverty will always exist, greed and malice, jealousy, pain, anger, and sorrow. All I can do is take care of my little piece of it and enjoy what happiness, mercy, grace, gentleness, and joy I can find. Poverty and illness suck, but they give me a job and a reason to be inspired. For that I am, in a way, thankful for the poor of the world. Maybe that's what Jesus said when he said, "God bless the poor."
When I left Lawndale, I went downtown. I left my car with a valet, I took an elevator to the 4th floor of a glass and chrome tower, I was led into relaxation room, offered a chaise lounge and strawberry/cucumber water, got rubbed down, massaged, moisturized, exfoliated, and led to a 15th floor hotel room where I took a hot shower in a stall with glass walls. Then I strolled 3 blocks down and had a beer, a chicago hotdog, and an order of cheese fries.
Tonight, instead of lying on the ground under the stars, I will sip a cocktail under the bright lights of the city.
Life is a strange thing.