I had another tough interaction with someone today. This time, it was at volunteer event at a laundromat. Volunteers provide free laundry and food for people living on the streets. Unfortunately, the power went out while people were washing their clothes. Some folks had to leave with their wet clothes and try to dry them elsewhere.
People were understandably upset about the whole thing. One person in particular was irate. He went to get his wet clothes from the dryer and demanded that someone come with a flashlight (the lights were out in the laundromat). I ran over to help him. He muttered about how pissed off he was. I stood there silently, holding the light. After he got his clothes out of the dryer, I walked away. In retrospect, I would have wanted to stay and give him enough light to walk out of the building. But I was afraid of his angry words.
As I was biking home, I started questioning my motivations for my life. I say that I am an advocate for people living on the streets. But is that really true? Do I really care for people? Or am I trying to make myself seem like a better person? Because I think to myself that if I really did care, I would be doing so much more. I think to myself that I am a fraud, and that I should just be honest that I don’t actually care about people and go get a corporate job that would make me lots of money. But that line of thinking isn’t helpful.
I suppose every service provider and volunteer goes through this. As much as I focus my attention on serving those in need, I must recognize that there is a distance between us. I don’t know what it’s like to experience homelessness or severe mental illness. I want to remain humble about the role that I can play. I can’t solve all problems. But I can do something.
It’s also true that self-care is important, and that taking time to rest helps me to do my work for the long term. If I gave away all my stuff and went out to live on the streets myself, it would be harder to be an advocate for other people.
In any case, I pray that I would have greater compassion for others, and greater grace to not beat myself up for my mistakes. I am still learning, after all. Learning how to be a lawyer, how to be an advocate, and how to be a human.