Here I am at home, sitting in my very uncomfortable 15-year-old couch, but warm and happy. I just came back from my job which I am lucky to say I love. A lot of things have changed since I first arrived here in Los Angeles. As I was driving home, I was talking to my family about the short conversation I had just had with a homeless man while I was waiting at the cross walk. I talked to him and gave him some money. He smelled and was obviously in need of help. He was holding a sign that said, “Happy Holidays”. He wasn’t really begging though. But his eyes caught mine and so I started to talk. I asked him if he slept outside and he said yes because there was no room in the shelter but he was waiting from friends in Jamaica to be help him. I asked him what his story was and he said, “oh it’s a long story”. It was my turn to walk and so I talked to him for a few more seconds and then crossed the street. I said, I hope things would turn for the better and wished him a Happy Holiday. He said the same and wished me a Happy New Year. I now regret not staying to talk longer. My family as usual was sweet to me when I told them the story and said I felt bad for him. They said to me, ” At least you were nice and you helped him”. It’s true. Most people pass them on the street and ignore them as if they were trash. I always smile to homeless people and talk to them if I can. Today reminded me of an essay I wrote after being in LA for just 5 months. My husband remembered it. So there it was. I decided I would go home, find what I had written back then, post it and see where I was today. I wanted to see if anything had changed.
So here it is and please read all the way to the end to see my comments about what I feel and think now!
It’s been almost 5 months since I’ve arrived in this heartless, dysfunctional, delusional city. We came here because we thought it would be better for all of us. We were full of hope that we would fit in here better than where we came from. Perhaps our thought was the illusion. All I can seem to focus on since I have been here is how ugly, mean and sad things are around here. I see the ugliness in people’s face, in their behavior, in the way they drive, talk, and ignore each other. My soul has been aching for 5 months and I am not sure how to make it stop. I came to work one day, very distressed after having experienced a very disturbing chain of event. I attempted to explain to a coworker why my heart was in despair. I told her about the feeling of discomfort and misery I have had since January. She looked at me and said: “I used to be like that too, I used to cry everyday, but after a while I didn’t see it anymore. I don’t hear or see things anymore. It will get better, you will get used to it.” Then I looked at her and said: “if you knew me, you would know that I will never get used to it”. Indeed, I know that it is impossible for me to be numb to what is around me and that is exactly what she was trying to convince me would happen with time. This is the core of all problems. When people first come to this city, they most likely feel the same thing that I have been feeling but they only allow themselves to feel this way for a short amount of time. They become desensitized. Or rather, they desensitize themselves. A good example of this came from another coworker of mine who gave me an advice one day on how to be happy in this city. He told me to create a sort of cocoon, to create my own happiness with my family and just focus on that. Apparently, that’s what he did, and it undoubtedly works for him extremely well. In my opinion, the only way someone is able to live that way, is by desensitizing himself to the point that things don’t look the same anymore, or aren’t even there at all. Or is it that these people have made some kind of mental agreement with themselves that if they let themselves feel, they would lose their sanity or comfort? What has happen to humankind? Humans are “feeling” beings but at the same time, they have the need to protect themselves from what is hostile or unacceptable to them. Humans feel but they are also intelligent. At times, their intelligence takes over their senses and attracts them to selfish behavior. Some would say that the need to create a cocoon for themselves is simply a defense mechanism that every species has. But who says that it is impossible to protect ourselves and at the same time help each other? I, like everyone else in this world, feel the need to protect myself and my family from danger, but I also have this incredible feeling that I was put on this earth to make it better and to help people. I was born with this amazing ability to feel other people’s pain and rejecting this ability would be an insult to who I am and an insult to mankind. I am able to see, hear, taste, smell, touch and feel and yes sometimes, most of the times for the past 5 months, it is very unpleasant but what am I to do about it, just repress all those senses? Don’t get me wrong, I do look away, and walk away from uncomfortable situations, but every time I come out of it disturbed. I cannot just move on or forget about it or block it like my 2 co-workers were able to do. Instead, I go home and wonder how I can go on. How can I witness pain, suffering, chaos and insanity and sometimes evil, and just manage to go on? How can I be surrounded with all this everyday and just ignore it, pass it by and go home to my cocoon everyday? What kind of human would I be? My feelings overcome my intelligence and my ability to block things.
For years now I have been looking for my purpose in life, just like everyone else has. I have been aching inside for a long time. I have this strong feeling of sadness and pain inside of me. I cannot watch the news without feeling personally touched by what I see. So many times, I just want to go help people personally, but I have no plan. When Katrina happened, I sat there watching the horror on TV, crying most of the time. I wanted to scream at the TV and then pack my bags and go help those people. But I couldn’t because of my own family who needed me and because me leaving to help those poor people would jeopardize our financial stability.
When I arrived in LA, the aching feeling resurfaced almost immediately. How can a city have come this far? What happened? How can this be possible here in America? This question sounded so familiar, the same question everyone had been asking for days when Hurricane Katrina happened? People in L.A seem to have lost touch with reality; many have created a life of disillusion for themselves. They live in a fantasy. The entire city seems to be out of touch with the rest of the country. L.A is a selfish, rough, desensitized city and so are many people who live here. I do understand it is a way for them to survive here. A good majority of people come here to follow their dream and in their journey to attain their dream, they simply forget to be sensitive to others. They walk on a straight line and force themselves to not look aside by fear it would destroy them.
Well, just like I was telling my coworker that day, if I do not look, if I let myself be desensitized, I will be destroyed. How can I create a cocoon for myself, go home at night and not be touched by how many homeless people I saw on my way back to my cocoon?
Sometimes, I do envy those who can pass by the ugliness and chaos and just not feel. Sometimes I wish I was numb. Perhaps my life would be easier, perhaps, it would be meaningless. Perhaps, I would have a job that interests me today if I was numb. I have a college degree, I speak 3 languages; everyone was so sure I would have a good job by now that pays well but look at me today. Every job that I have had seem so meaningless to me. Working in a store, working at a hotel, this is not what I want but it’s all I can get. Everyday I wake up with deep sadness and I feel as if I am wasting time. I wish I could use the hours of my precious life, doing something that matters, help people, tell stories of the people who are passed by everyday by those who go home to their cocoon. Sometimes I wish I could start a revolution. I wish I could expose the world’s misery because I do believe that exposing the truth and misery in a major way is the key to re-sensitizing people. Remember during Katrina, how much people were affected by what they saw. How many people donated to the Red Cross, made in kind contributions, drove to New Orleans to help. That is I believe because of the dramatic impact the media had on people. Of course many turned their TV off after a few days but those who didn’t are the ones who made a difference. Those who allowed themselves to bring the tragedy into their home allowed themselves to suffer as well. Accepting the pain and suffering and allowing it into their homes is the first step to become compassionate. Turning off the TV, ignoring the homeless person on the way home, is unfortunately a way of keeping the status quo. As hard as it can be to feel other people’s pain, it makes us better people. It makes us think more and eventually find a way to make life a little more bearable for all of us, not just us as individuals.
Finding my peace will be finding a way to everyday make a difference for someone who is suffering. My heart and soul will not be content until I find a job that lets me be who I am. I wish I could afford to drop my meaningless job and go do what I want to do but the status quo prevents me from doing that right now. I moved to L.A and now I have to settle here and beat the monster. After 5 months of searching for a place to live and hundreds of people denying us because all they rely on is a piece of paper called a credit report, I must have faith that I was brought here to finally find a way to everyday make a difference to the world. My husband, daughter and I have been victims of people’s stereotype, blindness and fear and I truly hope we soon find a place to settle before we find ourselves on the street like nearly 90,000 people in the city. If we make it here or even if we don’t, it would definitely have made my conviction stronger and will have brought me closer to making a difference. I just hope I find the strength to keep going and I hope one day someone gives me the chance to make a difference at a broader level.
It’s been almost 7 years since I wrote this. I am still the same person and still believe everything I said. I think what has changed is that I have become stronger from everything I have encountered and found a way to ease the pain I experience by being such a sensitive human being. I am sensitive to pain and suffering. That has not changed. I am a very aware and conscious being. I always side with the less fortunate, the poor, the struggling class, the minorities. I somehow have found a way to deal with my sadness and sometimes anger towards the system. First of all, I am not afraid of speaking my mind. If I see something disturbing, I will denounce it. If I see I can do something, I will do it and encourage other people to do it too. I also decided to volunteer my time. I joined the American Red Cross and did hours of training. So basically, the way for me to deal with the suffering was to be there first hand where suffering was. I am part of the Disaster Team. I stay locally because I do not have the luxury and finances to be dispatched to out-of-state but I am always asked and will go when I can. This gave me more power over my feelings. It gave me purpose.
As I said back then, I always felt like I had a bigger purpose in life, that I needed to help people and so I found a way to do just that and I do whenever I can. I am sort of a good Samaritan in so many ways. I help people stranded on the road, I find myself in weird situations where I end up being the one giving someone CPR, etc. It is quite odd sometimes. I still think it is horrific how many homeless people live in Los Angeles and how a few blocks down, there are stores and shops with products costing an unnecessary arm and a leg. Social equality has always been important to me and I personally think we do it all wrong in America. I think social equality goes hand in hand with racial equality as well. I think we need to educate our children better in school. We need to bring everything back to basic humanity. Teaching humanity and compassion should be the most important subject and very first thing taught in school. Instead we desensitize our kids. That is a whole different topic which I will gladly discuss.
Caring makes us vulnerable, it’s true but as a society, I think we would definitely benefit from having more caring people. Strength and compassion can go hand in hand. It does not have to be one or the other. Strong caring people can lead and change the world. Real change happens in the heart first. I know it sounds so cliché but “Be the change you want to see in the world” is a good line. If you want to see more happiness and compassion, you need to do be compassionate yourself. Avoidance never leads to anywhere. Just because your little cocoon is comfortable does not mean it is safe. Putting yourself in someone’s shoes will make you realize that there is a lack of understanding and love in this world. I recently watched a documentary called the Human Experience which I highly recommend watching. These two young men went around the world and put themselves in the shoes of many different people, the first ones being homeless people. This taught them so much. It made them better. It transformed them, brought back humility. We all need to feel discomfort and feel pain that others feel, otherwise, we become no better than what we use on a daily basis, ROBOTS.