This morning, in the car on the way to school, we were stopped at a light at an intersection just off the highway that is usually frequented by low-income or homeless people selling the newspaper, Real Change. They buy the paper with their own money-.60 cents a paper and then re-sell it for $2.00. Topics in the paper focus on poverty, homelessness, and social justice. It’s a way for folks to make some money and get back on their feet.
Anyway, Willie, a Real Change vendor, is usually at this particular stop. Willie has won vendor of the week awards. He brings joy, laughter, and smiles to me and my children each time we see him. While Willie is selling his newspapers, he is also feeding seagulls with tortilla chips. He acts like a delighted kid and breaks out into a wide toothless smile and giggles every time a gull swoops down and snatches the chip out of his outstretched hand.
Willie likes to do this fancy thing with his papers. He puts them in a fan-like arrangement and then tosses them in the air and catches them all in place! One time he was doing this and a couple papers dropped and fell over the side of the bridge. And he just laughed about it.
My kids and I talk about his delight and zest for living at this moment. I think they are intrigued by his actions and they are learning about how simple things can make you happy. As for me, I wave to Willie every time we see him and once in a while I’ll get a paper. And when he laughs, I burst out laughing too- it is infectious. And I love laughing, it brings a certain gaiety to the day and actually grounds me.
It also reminds me of the smiles and laughter of the students I taught in Malawi, East Africa during my Peace Corps stint. These impoverished people had so few material things, and yet they had so much: they had each other, a community to look one another even when no one has enough to eat. There’s always something to go around. It’s not like that here. People are often isolated and left to their own devices. There are many great organizations working to help these people, but I still feel something is missing…
I read somewhere once:
Peace Corps Volunteers who go to Latin America come back politically aware.
Peace Corps Volunteers who go to Asia come back spiritually enlightened.
Peace Corps Volunteers who go to Africa come back laughing!