I have seen homeless people on the street every year of my life. From parking lots of retail stores in the suburbs to certain traffic stops at various Chicago neighborhoods to the bustling streets of Lahore when we would visit Pakistan. It just becomes a fact of life. Even having been at the edge of homelessness and living at the poverty line for many years myself during my separation had become a normal state in life.
In 2019, I took a train ride on one of the coldest days in Chicago and it changed my life forever. I got on the Red Line at Howard Station like I did every day to go to work downtown. My daily routine consisted of spending my commute creating content for my side-hustle before I officially clocked in for the day. But that day was different.
It was too cold. All my layers were barely helping.
As the train doors opened to let passengers on, I saw a man run out of one car and right back on into the car I was heading into. He looked like he was running for his life. I sat there, confused for a few moments, staring. His outfit was mismatched and the smell was unavoidable.
He got up and started to beg and it was the amount he asked for that made it make sense. He asked for exactly the amount it cost to grab another train ride.
My face was suddenly hot then like a cold snowball in my face. I realized that this man, who had nowhere to go, was trying to keep warm on a train and may possibly not live to the next day if he sat in his usual places outdoors.
I had felt unbearable cold outside for a few minutes, but got through it. We get through it because we have our cars, our train rides, our offices, then back again, and our warm homes at night.
What if I had nowhere to go and had to train hop all day, every day, the whole winter just to stay alive and then manage other places and meals when the train shut down and there were no more stops? I might as well be living in a third world country!
My social media content that day recorded that story. I felt awfully grateful.
I scrounged up some change and handed it to him, but for the first time in my life, I felt like it was not enough. And that it was my problem. Not just his.
As I got off at my stop and dazedly walked to my office, I could not get the image out of my head.
During the coldest season of the year, we are focused on our holiday plans, our guests, our families, our decor and dinner menus, and maybe that one soup kitchen visit with the kids or the usual gift drive or dropping some change at the Salvation Army rep on the street outside the stores while shopping, but that’s it.
As Muslims and good human beings in general, we need to care about our neighbors and not just in Ramadan.
In 2019, I did not realize ICNA Relief did winter drives and made sure to feed the homeless on a regular basis among their many other programs.
But this National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, I will be donating to multiple programs to do my part and looking into passing things out in-kind at train stations around my city.
All it takes is for one life event for us to end up in the same shoes and one good deed to spread good karma.
How do you want to end your 2021?