Testing the Waters

Amanda Brinegar - Senegal

September 26, 2010

At any moment, the moon can turn us into waves that are constantly crashing against the pillars of society, never settling comfortably anywhere. I experienced this firsthand on Wed. Sept. 22 when I was thrown to sea, swept into the current of the vibrant, pulsating city of San Francisco, into an area that has been creatively hidden in what’s called the ‘tenderloin’ region of the city. I walked the sidewalks where the homeless line the streets waiting for food, shelter, clothes, sympathy and a voice.

GCY sent us into foreign land without even leaving America. The fellows were able to give many people living without a home, a voice. I listened to their stories, giving them validation that they had value as a human being. I heard the story of a man who came from a wealthy family, went to college, had a house and car and then lost it all to a cocaine addiction. I sympathized with a man who suffered from bi-polar disease and couldn’t keep a job. I listened as a man broke down admitting a heroin addiction. I cringed when I saw a father and mother with a 5 month old baby living on the cracked sidewalk as people walked by ignoring this tragedy. I watched as a man begged in front of a sandwich shop, outstretching his soiled hands, dirt caked under his fingernails, as people looked at him in fear and disgust. Although many of us acknowledge the problem of poverty, what we think we know, we don’t comprehend. We have purposely placed these people in the shadows.

After spending most of the day trying to understand the homeless lifestyle and empathize with those living it, I walked back over to the other side, Union Square. I was handed $15 for dinner and bought two small turkey subs and crème brule for dessert. I walked down Market Street looking in the windows of flashy shops that sold clothes, jewelry and unneeded knick-knacks. The immediate juxtaposition of extreme poverty to the convenient commodity-filled world of the average American was overwhelming and frustrating. How could I have so much, while others have so little?

Although my world is filled with many materialistic things that have value, my life has no worth unless I do something with it. What we have does not decide our importance. My value does not depend on the amount of money I make, but rather the amount of soul and heart I spend on serving others. That is my livelihood. Whether the moon chooses me as a wave, or the galaxy picks me as a star, I will always have a heart to love and a hand to give.

Amanda Brinegar