|Kelly enjoying the sunflowers|
There he was, sitting in a chair with his legs crossed, mesmerized by John Wayne’s charismatic charm on the television. Imagine a 59-year-old African American Santa Claus with a stumbling gait, minus the red coat and hat. His toothless smile could make just about anyone chuckle. Let’s call him Sammy*. After just taking a shower in our facilities, he was clean-shaven, groomed and ready to venture back out into the scorching, humid Chicago weather. With the forecast never fluctuating much in the summer, dehydration and heat exhaustion are constant fears for the homeless. Recently, Sammy was one of the guests whom I worried about the most. The pallor of his skin tone and dismissive attitude couldn't indicate more clearly that someone was wrong. He had been losing his appetite and the once jolly grandpa that had everyone laughing was now silent in the corner. Like my actual grandpa, Sammy is stubborn. It wasn't until his condition became worse that we insisted we call an ambulance for him. Homeless for 17 years, being on the streets had taken a toll on him. But despite having no money, no home and no family, Sammy always had his smile on. Out of all of the guests whom I have interacted with this year, Sammy is the one that I feel most connected to. He takes everything with a grain of salt and never takes life seriously. After being checked into the hospital for about 2 days, he left against medical advice. I saw him that day when he came into our lunch program. Oddly enough, I convinced him to check himself back in. Although not my original plan, I ended up taking 45 minutes to walk him to the emergency room. During that walk, he told me about his family, his wife, and story. Building up the relationship with him this entire year has led to this conversation. I felt touched that he trusted me with the details of his life and that he could be so open with me. At one point he had tears in his eyes and said, “you can’t go now, I will miss you too much”, referring to the end of my program. I knew he had an impact on me, but I didn't know that I had such an impact on him.
|Sassi and Kelly|
Sammy is someone who I strive to be in the future. Mostly carefree but serious at times, his personality cultivates likability in others. Despite his difficult predicament, he never fails to see life in a positive light. Like many of our guests, he has made the most of what he has. Often he tells me that he is a veteran survivor. The reason why he has survived on the streets for so long is that he knows how to make something out of nothing. Many Americans, including myself, need to take a step back from our lives and appreciate what we have. Not only in material possessions but also the emotional relationships and the intangible memories that are ingrained in us. If this year and Sammy have taught me anything, it’s to cherish life. To stop worrying about the clothes on my back, my appearance or material possessions and to live a more simple life. We are all humans. Everyone is worth your time. You are not more important than someone else because you are able to provide for yourself. My service has taught me to give humankind a chance—to not walk away from a hungry beggar on the street and to spark up conversation when you can. Even after the end of my program, I plan to remain in contact with Sammy and see how he is doing.