Sheets for curtains, dirty toys litter the sidewalk, a faint smell of smoke blowing by, walls as thin as paper, doors slamming at 2am. Mold and rust gather around the tub, remember to keep the door locked, locked good and tight at all times and don't answer if someone knocks, hide and keep quiet. Rooms sparsely furnished with hand me downs and donations. It's a good day if there's milk in the yellowing refrigerator, if the lights are still on. Waiting for the mail, I hope it arrives today so we can eat. I lay awake at night worrying. I'm 8 years old.
Last week I drove through a neighborhood that reminded me. It brought chills down my spine. I slowed and stared and remembered. My breath caught in my throat, tears just beneath my eyes. Memory after heart breaking memory swept through me. I could hear my mother's voice, smell the smells and feel the tense muscles in my stomach. I remembered the fear.
It was an accident. I took a wrong turn.
Or maybe it was on purpose. Remembering where I came from helped me realize something important. I have lost sight of being thankful and appreciative. I have become so wrapped up in my own world, building my problems up to be something bigger than they really are.
A lot of my stress, complaints and frustrations, well, they are superficial. They pale in comparison to the people living in the neighborhood I stumbled upon or the millions of neighborhoods across the country, across the world just like it. Some can't feed their families or even keep a steady roof over their heads. I sit here frustrated because, oh I don't know, meal planning is so annoying or how I just can't stay on top of laundry and dishes or the 3 year old never makes it into the toilet or how I just don't feel like cooking tonight or my hairstyle is so plain or, gosh, how Pinterest is down.
The experience, driving through that neighborhood, took me roughly by the shoulders, shook me and lifted my chin, telling me to remember where I came from. Remember how I use to cherish that brand new pair of shoes and I'd clean them each evening to keep them looking new because new shoes don't come around very often. To eat slowly and soak in the taste of spaghetti or hamburger helper. Or. Or! That book I found at a garage sale and my mom said I could spend a dollar on it.
My appreciation has been lost on modern annoyances and swept up in the madness of busy schedules. The enjoyment of small achievements and moments lost in the grumble of dirty dishes and sticky floors.
It's time to step back. Step back and let the chaos float on without us. To be appreciative and thankful and gracious. To teach these things to our children. To see, really see, how good we have it.
So what if there is not a mountain of gifts under the tree at Christmas? So what if birthday's aren't celebrated each year with events that swallow up the moment? So what if our homes are modestly furnished and our cars are last decade's models covered in cookie crumbs and finger prints?
I come from a place where hope is sometimes the only thing a person has to hold on to. A place where food is cherished and appreciation is placed on people and moments, not things.