When I awoke this morning, I had the words of my title in mind, but I was remembering an old Negro spiritual we used to sing in church. “How I got over. How I got over. My soul looks back and wonders, how I got over.” I remember my mother, grandmother and others singing it with gusto, thanking God for helping them to “make it through.” Then I typed in the words on YouTube, and found this song by The Roots, and it changed my whole attitude.
Rather than praise and worship, the words, music and images took my heart and mind into a totally different mood of distress, despair and disturbance. Tears began to flow, and my heart began to ache. For I remember, can almost smell and feel, the sensations of the people portrayed in the video; because it wasn’t too long ago that their plight was my own, and it hit too close to home.
I sit now, at my computer, with my heater going full blast in my cozy third-floor apartment overlooking a majestic oak tree, while the capitol building of the state of California is at the end of my block. There are limos, Lamborghini-es, and other luxury cars nightly pulling up to the restaurants, coffee houses and cafes that line my street.
Happy people sitting outside having lunch, dinner or just over coffee fill the air with their laughter and content. They smile and some even nod as I pass, thinking and accepting me as one of them, an equal. But I wonder what they would think about me if they knew that it wasn’t too long ago that I was homeless, living in a shelter with my two kids…friendless and alone? Would their looks be diverted away from me?
This is not the way I envisioned my day going when I woke up full of gratitude and rejoicing this morning. I had no intention of spending my morning revisiting an episode in my life that I seldom visit anymore. Not that I am trying to forget it, because I think it plays a significant part in my current sense of empathy. But today was not going to be one of those days when it would come back to me with such force, with a video as stark evidence that what happened then was real to me, just as now it’s very real to others.
But now that I think of it, both the rejoicing and the pain belong to me. I embrace them as value which has been added to my life. For without the pain there would be no joy. I would not know that it is possible to overcome and not be genuine in sharing that hopeful message with others. I would also not be able to serve as an example to those who think themselves above and beyond the possibilities of becoming like their less fortunate neighbors. It can happen to anyone.
There is a message for all of us in this, I think. For me, reminiscing keeps me grounded. For those who are struggling, I wish them God’s best. For those who are reading this, I hope it stirs something in you to reach out to even one in whatever way you can to those disenfranchised by the state of their birth or whatever life has thrown their way. A simple smile of encouragement will go a long way, and with just a little help one day those who are suffering won’t have to wonder how they got over, they will know.