Isn’t it interesting what “normal” is to each individual?
For one person, normal may be to brush his teeth as soon as he get up. Another person may see normal as waiting until after breakfast to clean those pearly whites. One culture considers belching after a meal a compliment, while another sees it as rude. “Normal” holiday traditions vary so much that compromises are needed when two families come together. But, really, all of it is “normal.” Sure, we may argue over which traditions and habits are better, but usually none of it is bad, just “normal” for that person.
Sometimes, what surprises me the most at Sox Place, is what “normal” is for the kids that walk through the doors. Food stamps, the hope of a disability check, the foster care system, spanging (asking for spare change, as in “Do you have any spare change?”), and lining up at a food pantry are what takes up their typical day. This daily agenda may not be normal for us, but for the homeless or poor it can be very normal. The worst, for me, is when the guys talk about “sharing” the girls or the girls talk about trading sex for a place to sleep. And they talk about it as if it was no bigger deal than the weather changing. It is the way of life for a street kid.
Then it becomes a perpetual cycle – the norm, if you will: someone becomes the victim of the foster care system, the street becomes their home, they find some sort of “street family” where it is implied that they are to trade something to be a part of the group (most likely, for a girl, this will be her body), she gets pregnant, has a kid, child welfare takes the child away, and the whole thing starts over again.
The problem isn’t that this is different from my normal or that I’m somehow better than these kids; the problem is that this should not be anyone’s “normal.” But these kids don’t know how to change when their only job experience is selling drugs (they know fractions and distribution) and the only shelter they’ve ever known has been full of hate; and they don’t want to be the kind of “normal” that they are told to be by the government officials and “yuppies” who look down their noses at the grungy kids with too many bags.
So, how does one demonstrate that normal doesn’t have to include trading sex for a place to stay on a cold night or drinking too much in order to numb horrific memories? Love; compassion; patience. When a life is lived with a true Christ-like compassion – seeing everyone as an equal, these kids will have an example of a normal that is not painful. Sometimes this may be simply acknowledging the bum on the street corner. But it also includes an everyday attitude of love, generosity, and humility, because you never know who is watching you.