This isn’t a poem, more of a testimony.
Throughout high school, I tried on purpose to separate myself from people who were apart of the same/higher socioeconomic status as me. I attempted to really appreciate the diversity that was advertised by my school and become friends with people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, religions, and races.
And throughout this experience, I have had my privilege shoved right in front of me as I would hear a couple of my friends explain how they would hear gun shots near their houses on the shady side of the Shaker Heights/Cleveland border. Yet they would shrug it off like it’s a normal occurrence.
Or I would listen to stories about tough family relations, resulting in other friends separating from their parents because of emotional or physical abuse.
Or I would be shocked about how some friends had to find their parents jobs.
Or I would be saddened about how a few friends couldn’t afford to go to college out of state.
Or I would be speechless as friends complained about suffering from severe anxiety due to life at home.
Not everyone (including me, guilty as charged) can understand these difficult hardships.
But I couldn’t help but notice their strength- how they desperately want to pursue their passions, how they accept those events as a part of life without moping too often about it, and how they try to overcome these issues in some way- through attempting to make a better future for themselves, improving their mental health, or helping their family out in whatever way they can.
And for that, I salute them. Life is not easy and it can be hard to overcome these challenges. But their maturity impressed me and made me take a good look at myself and what I have. I have a stable family situation, my parents have saved money for me to go to college since I was born, and my dad has a good job. And I now understand how lucky I am for that.
But I do try to live frugally because I know ‘tyranny of choices’ can be unhealthy for making decisions that are actually important and I also don’t want to seem like one of those spoiled girls, making mommy or daddy buy her whatever she pleases whenever she wants. Thus I feel guilty whenever my parents offer me to buy clothes out of the blue because I know my parents only have so much and that most of that is going towards my college tuition. I can’t make them pay for more, especially concerning clothes that I may or may not wear.
So yes, I wear clothes that I’ve had for years. I know I was talked behind my back about that during high school by the richer girls, but I didn’t care. I found most of them to be superficial anyway, acting one way around me but ignoring me around their friends. Talking about having sex with their friends while they partied, editing their Instagram photos for hours, and grimacing at my friends who talked to their rich friends. *This wasn’t the case for all of them, I’m just talking about individual events I witnessed within this group of people. I’m also not saying all rich people are like this. In fact, I know a few who are some of the friendliest people I met. I’m just talking about the bad apples.*
Yet I know that I can have my privileged moments- having little knowledge over how to do certain chores, complaining about not having a nicer car to drive when I found out I had to drive the 2003 mini van, and silently wishing I had a newer iPhone from time to time.
But a very important part I know is that mommy and daddy’s money aren’t going to help me get that internship. It’s based on my abilities; how well I do academically during college, how well I try to sell myself during that interview, what activities I’m involved, etc. And everyone is on the same playing field when it comes to that.
All we do is compare. We try to see if we can get the bigger house, the better job offer, the best vacations, the most expensive clothes.
What about the things in life that actually matter? How about trying to do everything in our power to solve world hunger? How about trying our best to help those who went through abuse, here and abroad? How about seeing the poverty that exists in our community?
Why not make talk into action? What EXACTLY is stopping you? If you’re passionate about changing something, do it! Find a problem, look up programs, find mentors, ask friends if they could help. Wouldn’t you want to look back on how you were a kick-ass changer instead of having that gnawing regret in the back of your head about what you could have done?
Honestly, I wished I would have done more to help some areas of Cleveland. Passing through the affordable housing, driving past homeless holding up signs asking for help, and hearing stories about how some students in the Cleveland Metropolitan school area had rough lives at home and let out their frustrations during school. I couldn’t help but think how I could have helped, even if it was volunteering at an organization or donating to a charity.
One can never go back in the past but it’s never too late to change and make up for mistakes.
If I can offer a token of advice, I believe everybody has some issue in their life. I don’t believe anybody can have a perfect family. With me, growing up with a severely autistic sister is no easy task. Whenever she acts out in public, people look at us (meaning my mom, dad, brother, and I) like we‘re crazy. I hold back tears, wishing I could scream in their faces, “SHE HAS AUTISM, CAN’T YOU UNDERSTAND??!!” It’s difficult for us to do events as a family. I would rarely have friends over at my house when I was younger, knowing she could act out any minute. I go through anxiety symptoms (headache, shaking, muscle tension, etc.) whenever she has a tantrum. I feel triggered by sounds that seem like nothing to somebody but remind me of the times right before she would have her worst breakdowns.
But I try to see the positive sides of the experience- I’ve become independent, empathetic towards the mentally challenged, patient towards my friends/family (even when they do irritating things), and, more importantly, I helped make an autism awareness program during high school, teaching 150+ third graders about autistic symptoms and trying to show them what it’s like to have autism.
And I know it could be much worse.
So don’t be afraid to reach out to people. Hear their stories. Listen to them. Make them feel important.
And try, in some way, to help.