My twentieth birthday was one of the saddest days of my life. I had decided to take a hiatus from school and the stress of coming exams by taking a stroll along New York harbor. Within a few minutes, I had encountered a young woman in her twenties homeless, hungry, and utterly helpless on the ground. She had tearfully looked up at me, shook her paper cup with a few loose nickels and dimes, and begged me for some pocket change as I shamefully walked past her. What had struck me was that she was seemingly no older than I was and left alone on the streets with nothing but a large pink schoolbag that high school students typically carried. As I took two steps past where she sat, I felt shame. Shame, not because I was embarrassed to see her, but because I could not do anything to help her. How she ended up on the streets? More importantly, why didn’t anyone else help her, especially in the financial district of one of the richest city in the world? At the moment, I didn’t know what to feel.
A few minutes later, after a stop at one of the nearby food carts, I walked back towards her with a plate in hand. As I handed it to her, I looked at her eyes and felt powerless. Now matter how much I did help her or wanted to help her, I knew that it was only temporary and wasn’t enough. She looked up at me as I handed her the plate. I could see the redness surrounding her eyes from the endless crying and her face trembling from fighting back the tears that wanted to come out. I gently told her to eat. And immediately, she collapsed into a teary mess. I don’t know how much pain she felt and I couldn’t imagine what she had went through. She told me that her parents died in a fire as I asked her what happened and I stood in silence. The little I did give her was nothing compared to what she needed. But she insisted that that was enough for her. At that moment, the meaning to the hijab that she wore became clear. It was a symbol of her faithfulness to her beliefs and hope for humanity.
Why did so many people wearing several-hundred dollars of business attire and expensive accessories walk past the girl with so little regard that they couldn’t spare a few coins to the starving girl? While the poor girl was starving in front of us we were too busy on our iPhones to understand what is going on around us. Have we become a society so ingrained in our own business that we don’t recognize reality? Are we simply desensitized to all this treacherous reality because we’ve learned not to care? We, as a society, have become too ingrained in our own needs that we have lost compassion for each other. Our founding fathers had sacrificed blood, sweat, and tears to give us the opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And this starving girl had none of the three. We have broken our promise in front of our own Lady of Liberty and we should be ashamed.
For my birthday, I saw the reality of what was around me. And I would like for every one to see this too.