By Andrea Fuller | Executive Director
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” (Friedrich Nietzsche)
A well-known quote—to what extent truth dwells within this sentiment, I sometimes question.
Some days, weeks, months, and years—even just moments—are more challenging than others. I have also learned in my lifetime that some people’s lives are more challenging than others. Why this is the case is not as difficult to understand as it is difficult to accept and live with.
Many people within Western cultures—especially here in the US—believe that it all comes down to personal choices: We choose the lives we live. If we don’t like something, fix it. Change it. Make a different choice. If life is hard or you keep facing multiple challenges, then the most logical and simplest explanation is that you are making the wrong choices.
Yes, I believe that there is power in the choices that we make. However, I also believe and know that there is power in the decisions that others make, and there are also things that are out of our control, as difficult as it may be to comprehend this. And within this realm of comprehension, perhaps we can be more intentional with our choices.
In reading stories about our vendors or those who are homeless, or even people within any one of our lives who seem to face tremendous challenges, one of the recurring themes is life-changing events. A woman leaving an abuser who at the beginning of the relationship seemed so loving and good. A man who worked his whole life to get out of the poverty he knew as a child, only to find out he has asbestos in his lungs from the job he used to work at for low wages and long hours. The man whose spouse whom he loved more than anything suddenly developed a terminal illness and died, and the financial, emotional, and psychological earthquakes that followed. The woman whose child was born with a serious medical condition and her partner left because he couldn’t deal with it anymore.
All of these events impact a life dramatically. And we have no control over certain things that happen—including what others choose and how that impacts us. Most of us are only one crisis away from being on the streets. It may seem farfetched, but people who are homeless are most often in this state of life because of a crisis, followed by another and possibly another, and then there is a domino effect. Do some people choose to remain homeless or make choices that were/are self-destructive? Of course. I would add to that, however, that I know many people who are not homeless who make self-destructive choices. The difference is, they have money or some kind of support network there for them. And that tends to be the one thin line that lies between the homeless and the non-homeless.
What does this mean? It means that homelessness is not as simple as, “He chose this life and it’s his fault he’s in this mess.” It also means that empathy is critical. And providing opportunities to rebuild lives is imperative. And that rebuilding a life takes time. Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps is important, but then a person has to walk to the stable, get on a horse, learn how to ride it, travel down the road, and figure out how to get where you’re going. It takes time.
Denver VOICE vendors are learning how to rebuild their lives. Selling the paper is one small and big step simultaneously. It is not a panacea, but it does and can lead to something better. Supporting our vendors and buying a paper has more of a positive impact than you can imagine. Thank you. ■