I have spent the better part of my day wondering how so many people can lack compassion. It seems to me that compassion should be one of the most basic human traits. Unfortunately, I am starting to realize that this is not the case.
Today we made a return delivery to a woman named Sherry. On our delivery slip it said that she has three children, two boys and one girl. We made our first delivery about a month ago to help get her and her children off of the floor. Although we were short on couches and dressers, it was very important to us that we delivered those beds as soon as possible. Now that we finally had all the items Sherry requested, we loaded up the truck and drove into Fall River.
Three volunteers and I entered her apartment and immediately introduced ourselves. I told her about the furniture we brought and began asking where she would like us to place the couch. She pointed to a wall next to the only counter in her very small kitchen. It was at this moment that I looked around and noticed that her two bedroom apartment was smaller than my one bedroom apartment. There was no living room so she had moved the fridge in order to fit a couch for her children. I then looked into the two bedrooms and noticed that one room had a twin and a full bed which took up 90% of the floor space. Sherry explained that one bedroom was for her 13 year-old daughter and that the other room was for her and the two boys. Although I was shocked at the amount of space she was sharing with her three children, Sherry’s smile and excitement about finally having furniture was enough to lighten any mood.
It was right around this time that I asked Sherry where she was coming from and how long she had been in this apartment. The story that followed upset me in ways I cannot even explain.
Sherry and her family were victims of a local slumlord named David Colville. I knew bits and pieces of stories regarding his atrocious apartments but I asked Sherry to explain her situation to the volunteers since this was the first they had heard about it. Back in June, Colville’s apartments were deemed unlivable and the Mayor of Fall River found it necessary to condemn them. Sherry and her children lived in one of these “affordable” apartments. The day that the condemnation and eviction occurred, Sherry’s children were in school and at daycare. The Mayor, along with the Fall River PD, raided the apartments and ordered all tenants to be out in two hours. By the time Sherry came home, she only had ten minutes to gather her family’s belongings. She said they gave her a duffle bag to fill and told her to get out immediately. Naturally, Sherry’s only concern was for her children. When she asked the authorities how she was going to get her children, they told her “We’ll bring them to you.” She had nothing but their word. The tenants of this County St. apartment were then shuttled to a shelter. Sherry and her children were forced to live in a single motel room for 5 months until they were finally set up with affordable housing. The tiny apartment in which we were standing.
I spent all day wondering how a single human being could allow for his tenants to live in such horrible conditions. Apartments infested with roaches and bed bugs. Buildings containing led when there were children crawling around on the floors. Broken fire alarms and frequent carbon monoxide leaks. I then began to wonder how a city official could, in good conscience, evict these families without batting an eyelash; requiring them to gather their most important belongings in an hour or less. Worst of all, none of these families were allowed to return to the apartments after the eviction. All their memories, furnishings, clothes…lost forever.
As I sit here now and write this, filled with passion and anger, I am also experiencing confusion. I am confused how in a single day I can hear a story of how a woman named Gail, who had been sleeping on the floor in an empty apartment, bought a struggling stranger groceries with her own food stamps. I am confused how Sherry, by no fault of her own, was forced into these circumstances and left to crawl out of them by herself, with three children in tow. A story of the purest generosity followed by a story of incredible injustice.
When the delivery was over, I thanked Sherry for sharing her story and said that her children were extremely lucky to have a mother so strong and so inspiring. I was startled when I noticed Sherry welling up at the thought of being a good mother. In my eyes, she had done nothing wrong, but in her eyes she had been failing her children.
I want to take this opportunity to say this: poverty is never the fault of a single person.
In a world lacking compassion, it is natural for us to blame our failings and shortcomings on ourselves. There is this mentality that we could always have done something differently, but that is just not true. So many things are out of our control. In an instant, our own lives can change for the worse and there is nothing we can do about it. When that time comes, we can only hope that someone, somewhere along the line, will show us a little compassion. It should never be our place to judge the circumstances of those around us, instead it is our place to lend a helping hand and an encouraging word. I cannot spend the rest of my week being angry and pitting blame on a disgusting slumlord and a heartless Mayor. Instead, I need to focus on being more compassionate. I need to counter injustice, greed and hatred with love.
An inspiring priest once shared that the greatest power we have in this life is by being vulnerable and that the ultimate vulnerability comes from loving others. So, go spread some love and help bring compassion back into the world!