We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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Photo ofLaw Paw

When I was  8, one day I had been playing on the street with my friends, riding with our bicycle and skates. It was almost in the evening when I saw an old man with white hair across the street.  He was bending over to pick things up off the ground that were spread out in the parking garage of a restaurant. They seemed to be recyclable items, shirts, old shoes and magazines.  Since we were tired we went to sit in the shade and hide from the hot sun and resting after all our biking and skating. From my seat I watched the old man struggle to collect everything alone .

It was my first time seeing an older homeless person. It was surprising to me. I usually saw homeless people who are in their mid 30s or 40s, but I had never seen an older homeless person. I came to the United States when I was six years old from Thailand. Before I came to the U.S. I grew up in a small rural village and in a refugee camp. In the village and in the camp there weren't any homeless people because everyone farmed and hunted and when someone struggled with food neighbors would help by giving them some of the food and vegetables they had harvested over the month. When I first arrived in the U.S. I thought there would be no old homeless people either, because the U.S. was a first world country and I was told that here everyone was rich. 

That day I told my friends that we should help the old man. But they were terrified. They told me that they didn’t know the person and that they were scared of the homeless man. They told me I should stay away from him and shouldn't go close to him. When I was watching him, I began to feel unhappy and sad for him because he was really old and seemed really weak. 

 Finally I decided to walk over to him, despite the fact that my mother has always  instructed me to never go close to strangers, and specifically never to get close to a homeless person when I see one. Because she worried that I might get hurt or kidnapped. Yet I went  to help him. I started to pick up recyclable boxes and then help gather his belongings. The old man smiled at me and said thank you.  After a few moments, my friends joined and together we quickly finished getting all his stuff. 

Just then a person saw us and called us over to their car. Through his window, he handed us some cash instead of to the homeless man. I was befuddled. Perplexed,  I thought: why didn’t he offer it to the homeless man? I began to head back to the old man to give him the cash. However he refused. He told me to go enjoy the money and that I made him happy and eased his pressure since that day had been particularly hard. Before he walked off he told me that I brightened up his day. As he walked away I smiled to myself. I felt a burst of joy and couldn't stop thinking about it that evening. 

I told myself that whenever I see someone struggling or needing help even if I don't know them, I should help but if I can't I should at least smile at them, because I could help brighten up their day.  It was a way for me to show kindness to others, and it was the right thing to do.