“It is not enough merely to exist ... That‘s all very well. But you must do something more. Seek always to do some good, somewhere.”
- Albert Schweitzer
The air was cold and tense, even though it must must have been 98()() outside. A few volunteers looked panicked, shuffling through papers and frantically searching for people to fill jobs. Chaos could have blown through the place and little would have changed. This was KellyUSA, where people were trying to help others pick up the pieces of their destroyed lives.
Although everyone seeking refuge from Hurricane Katrina was treated with respect and kindness, the atmosphere radiated confusion, resentment toward Nature‘s fearsome might, and, above all, fear. It was an atmosphere my friend and I were spared from experiencing firsthand, even though we could feel the harsh reality crawl up our spines. As we waited, a freakishly dressed clown with a hideous red nose and eerie painted smile squeaked past, his large shoes flapping mercilessly on the floor. Then a college student. Then an elderly couple. Each who left dragged their feet and looked glumly at the floor. Each who entered shuddered and closed their eyes before passing through the doors.
Then a man entered, a man who was different from the rest. He didn‘t have a stiff suit draped regally about his figure, nor did he have any donations or indication of his intentions. His white t-shirt was stained and his faded jeans hung loosely. But he walked straighter, with more confidence and poise, than the others. Striding through security, he paused at our table and uttered three words.
“I am homeless.”
The volunteer who had been furiously scribbling on a yellow slip of paper looked up and stared.
“I am homeless,” he said again, firmer. “But I am ready to help.”
The volunteer blinked and asked weakly, “What would you like to do?”
“Anything I can,” he replied steadily. “I may be homeless, but there‘s always someone in a worse situation. I may not have a home, but I have a heart.”
“Yes, you do,” the volunteer murmured. “Yes, you do.”
This man - whose name I never knew - has inspired me. Each person can make a difference, no matter where you are in the world, regardless of whether you live in a sprawling home or are homeless, whether you are an executive or flip burgers, you can always do something to change one piece of the world. You can make one person‘s life better.
This man showed the greatest amount of character of anyone I observed walking through those doors. It is character that each person possesses. What will it take for you to reveal the true strength of your character? Don‘t wait for a disaster.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.