This past weekend I met a homeless man at the Mall of America. I was on a scavenger hunt with some college friends, and this man came up to us and explained his story: He lived in a segregated community and later moved to the Twin Cities. By a strange turn of events, he was now homeless and trying to get into the support program at Salvation Army.
At first, I didn’t know how to react. At college, I’m in a safe, isolated bubble with little room to reach out. Going to the Mall of America is sometimes (well, most times, really) frightening for me because of all the people. Reaching out is hard for me, and even though I love others, it is mentally difficult for me to meet strangers. I can do it—I must do it—but it takes a lot of effort emotionally.
So when this man came up to us, it made me think about his situation. This man reached out to us, college students who were completely different from him—being in the bubble that we are—and tried to get us to empathize with him.
There is No Time
After we came back from the mall, I thought long and hard about our interaction with the homeless man. He was brave enough to reach out to us, and I admired him for it.
Reaching out is one of the hardest things that people can do. And on the flip side, it is also the simplest.
That’s right. The simplest.
Because all it takes is moving out of your comfort zone. Really, it is only simple in theory. All we must do is walk around the block, meet our neighbors, go to new places—we must enter the world and be involved.
A classmate of mine wisely said that we have no excuse not to reach out and see the world.
Yes, I may be apprehensive of new interactions with strangers, and yes, I may be terrified of stepping outside of my comfort zone—that sweet little bubble which envelops us all in worlds of our own making.
But that’s no excuse.
We must act in this world—we must step beyond our borders—because time is running out. In the grand scheme of life, how much worth is there in a second? A minute? A year?
If you are focused on yourself and on your comforts, you will soon find that you spent your life keeping your walls up while the whole world moved beyond you.
Seeing the World with Different Eyes
Talking with that homeless man at the mall made me ask questions: How much have I really stepped beyond my borders? How can I empathize with the people around me in an authentic, proactive way?
I’m still asking those questions, and I think I will always ask them. The one thing I can do right now is to step out and move forward.
Seeing the world from the eyes of another person is difficult and sometimes painful. But it is so necessary in a world where we section ourselves off in little pieces, in our own worlds. We become divided and self-focused, unable to see anyone but ourselves.
Empathy is hard. But empathy is a journey—and journeys are always hard.
I began this blog series “Roots” by focusing on how childhood shapes us. There were some kinks and rabbit trails in the series (after all, I did talk about IVF and adoptive parents), but I think I ended up with a broadened view of the world and of myself.
My closing advice to you, my reader, is that you take each step in life with purpose. Live fully, live wholly, and live not fearlessly but courageously.
And don’t be afraid to reach out and put yourselves in the shoes of another person.
Abby Jewett is an English Major at the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, MN. She is an aspiring author with an ever-growing curiosity for the world around her. Follow her on Twitter and read her personal blog.