Maintaining perspective

I have never been wealthy and my college savings account was short lived; I am used to living on a budget. Unforeseen medical expenses, however, have made these these past few weeks unusually difficult. I spent more time than I care to admit feeling sorry for myself and bemoaning my situation. I indulged in regret. And then I realized that, despite my lack of funds, I am lucky: I have lived before with no roof of my own and only a semblance of a bed; I have indebted myself for transportation, for food, for existence. Those days are in the past. Now, I have a job, I have a bike, I have a roof, and I have a system of support. I will pay my bills, I will have groceries, I will keep my apartment.

I am lucky.

Not everyone who faces the bottom has the resources with which I am blessed. Not everyone knows they will come out on the other side of crisis. And yet, not everyone gives up. I have had the honor of speaking with dozens of people for whom the option of acquiescence would have been easy, acceptable, expected. Defying the depressive power of poverty, these residents of affordable housing buildings have built lives based on service to their community. They attend political rallies, they volunteer at events, they help their neighbors.

Below is an excerpt from an interview with Arletha, a resident of an affordable housing building in Uptown. Arletha came to Uptown from a shelter in Rogers Park, where she had sought shelter in 2010 after a blizzard blanketed Chicago with snow.

“I had to go to this place so I’d have shelter at night, that was right after the snowstorm. And every night the shelters near the southside, they were always filled. So the lady asked me what did I think about traveling, and I said it didn’t matter because I didn’t want to sleep out in the cold…I like it now. When I first came I didn’t like it. Everything was new to me. I came from a large house…I couldn’t believe the apartment was so small! Phew. I was so depressed.

I love writing. I sew when I can, but I can’t do too much where I am, the closet ain’t big enough. I have no space to put anything.

The new condos [in formerly affordable buildings] that’s fine, but the people that are buying the poor people out -to me that’s heartless. They’re lost, they don’t care what happens to those that are unfortunate or not able to do for themselves right now…this is all that the poor people have. If  you don’t care about people -things don’t matter, it’s people that matter. Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you.”

Whenever I need perspective on my problems, I remember Arletha who, despite living in a room the size of a shoe box, still makes room in her thoughts for the troubles of her neighbors. She has chosen not to be bitter but kind. Her story and her ethos are humbling.

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