Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Making a Difference

Social services is a tough line of work. It takes special people to manage the problems of the world. The problems aren’t necessarily political—not like American troops in Iraq or any other hot-topic discussions. But the problems are worldwide. Homelessness, hunger, disease and mental illness are things that affect people from all walks of life. I’m realizing more and more that it’s agonizing to admit that I can’t save everyone. No matter how badly I want to save everyone, I can’t.

I’ve been in social services for eight years. Realistically, that’s not much time. I know people who do similar work and have been at it for thirty years. I don’t know how they’re able to do it, day after day, week after week, year after year.

There are days when I go home feeling absolutely shredded inside. So many people…lost souls…people who can’t be helped or, for whatever reason, choose not to be helped. This isn’t just a job for me. It runs much deeper than that. So much deeper.

And then, of course, there are the children. The children who, unknowingly take pieces of my heart with them when they wander back out into the world. So many kids, so many different backgrounds, but each suffering so very much. What’s always interesting to me is how many of these children, especially the very young children, have no idea that their lives are different from anyone else’s. I drive through the city and see them, cute little tykes in worn out tennis shoes, frayed pants and threadbare shirts, waiting in line at the shelters for meals. It seems like they should be sad, but…they’re not. Those kids are always smiling, eagerly bouncing up and down, barely able to contain themselves in the sometimes VERY long lines. They’re excited because they get to sit down at a table and eat. Even if the food isn’t that great, they know there will be enough to fill their empty bellies. Later at night, if the shelters are full, some of those children can be seen clinging to their mothers or fathers in the darkness. And the mothers and fathers, clinging back just as fiercely, whisper of tomorrow being a better day.

Maybe tomorrow there will be an open bed for us.
Maybe tomorrow the weather will be better.
Maybe tomorrow we can finally find some shoes for you.

Maybe tomorrow I'll find a job.
Maybe tomorrow…
Maybe tomorrow…

And I’m always left thinking, Maybe today, I can do something more. Maybe today, I can make a donation to the shelter or food pantry. Maybe today will be the day that my husband and I decide to adopt a special-needs child. Maybe today will be the day I make a difference in someone’s life.

I have to force myself to remember that last part. I do make a difference, even if that difference isn’t noticeable until years down the road.

Last week, I ran into a woman I worked with five years ago. She saw me before I saw her. Good thing, too, because I wouldn’t have recognized her. She’s a changed woman in every sense imaginable. When she saw me, she said, “You made a difference. I know you thought I wasn’t paying attention back then when you were trying to get me on the right path, but I was. If not for you, I don’t know where I’d be.”

Looking into her clear eyes, I felt a small sense of renewal. We all make a difference to someone. Who will you influence today?

1 comment:

Cheryl said...

You're a special kind of person to do the work you do. It must have meant a great deal to have someone tell you that what you did for them mattered.