I grew up in the small (I only realized it was small when I moved out to the suburbs of Chicago) town of Hudson, Ohio. It’s a cute little town of 22,262 people who are majority middle class white citizens. The closest city to me was Cleveland, and we all know what Cleveland is like, and if you don’t, then you don’t want to. Cleveland was not very accessible (only by car) from where I grew up, so going into the city wasn’t really a “thing”. There was also an understanding that Cleveland wasn’t really that great. When I went there, I didn’t really see floods of people walking around or people enjoying the city itself.
Since coming to Wheaton, I’ve realized that the city is so much more than just a place to go see the symphony or see sports teams play. The city is the conjunction of our human corruption and our innate beauty and creativity. Maybe I’m just spoiled because I live by one of the greatest cities in the world, Chicago, but when I go to Chicago I see the world more clearly as it is.
When I go to the city I’m overwhelmed with the diversity of people. Not just ethnically diverse, but the different personalities the city calls. The city shows me how different each of us truly are. Not only do we look different and act differently, each of us has our own separate lives. We’re each going on our separate journeys only momentarily running into each other and saying excuse me. The city reminds me how easy it is to fall between the cracks of society and feel incredibly alone and isolated with no community of your own.
But, there are some stunningly beautiful parts of Chicago, particularly Michigan Ave., State St., and Lakeshore Dr. But there are some also wretchedly ugly dehumanizing, and filthy parts to Chicago as well. I was blessed to have the opportunity to go to the city every Saturday afternoon to serve the homeless for the first 2 years of my Wheaton College career. This opportunity opened my heart to the homeless and showed me the pain of human life in the context of the city. I saw humans who were living like animals in the deep cavities of Lower Wacker Dr.; people who are so ashamed and embarrassed that when we attempted to talk to them they barely knew what to say. Then there were others who didn’t know when to stop talking. I mean if you think about it, these people have no one to hear them out. I can’t imagine living life like that. It started to make me think about the world completely differently.
What brings someone to beg for money? What brings someone to live on the streets of the city? I was always taught that they were choosing to be homeless, that anyone can get a job in this great nation of America, and that anyone who can’t is just lazy. But that’s not true. It made me realize, yes, some homeless people may just sit in their homelessness because they grew up homeless, and some of the homeless are pretty darn crazy and not necessarily fully in their right mind, but there are a lot of homeless people who lost their jobs and are truly struggling. There are homeless who are stuck in the cyclical addiction of alcohol and drugs and can’t find a way out. There are homeless who truly feel helpless and have no where to turn.
Visiting the homeless and getting to know them made me wonder what it would be like if I were homeless. I tried to think about how lonely it must feel. I thought about how degrading it must be to beg people for money only to have them turn their back on you and ignore you. I thought about what it would be like for me and what state I would have to be in to beg on the streets. I thought about how I would have to feel like there was absolutely no other options for me, that the only way for me to survive was to ask other people to help me to get food for that day. Some may be taking advantage of the system but many are acting in desperation.
The city is full of opposing pictures of wealth and extreme poverty, the immaculate and filth, brokenness and restoration. It’s a magnified version of the world around us.