Khalid Latif – Become Your Tomorrow
NYPD and NYU Chaplain Khalid Latif describes a moving incident with a homeless stranger that taught him an important lesson.
Some of us just don’t think that much. One night, I left from a meal and there was a homeless man asking people for money outside of our center. I said to him, “I have some sandwiches I could give to you.” He said, “I don’t want your sandwiches.” I walked away thinking that this guy doesn’t want my food, all he wants is money, he’s probably not even hungry, or he’s going to use the money on drugs or alcohol, or something like that. I caught myself in my thoughts. I said, “The only person who can answer why he doesn’t want my food is he, himself.”
I walked back to him and I was a little annoyed. I said to him, “Why don’t you want my food, man?” He walked to his shopping cart and he took out a bag. He said, “I already have food.” He said, “If I was to take your food in addition to the food that I have, there’s no way I would be able to eat all of it, and some of it would get thrown away.” He said, “Me, living the life that I live, I will never throw away food.” I said thank you to him for not just teaching me something about himself, but teaching me a lot about myself. I walked away with a different recognition of who it is that I am not necessarily today, but what it is that I really want to be in the long term.
Society teaches us to look at ourselves a lot, but not really look for ourselves. You just think about how much time you spent in front of a mirror, how much time you spent in terms of the care of your physical, your external, to fit into boxes that people place you in that you might not even know you’re in, but you’re trying to fit into somebody else’s standard of who you’re supposed to be. My daughter and I, we go to Dunkin Donuts a lot. She’s four and a half years old. If you ever see her, her name is Madina. She’s got this contagious energy to her, real deep love that people can’t help but fall into.
We were going to Dunkin Donuts one morning and we walked into Dunkin Donuts, and the poor guy behind the counter, even before any of us said anything, saw my daughter smiling at him, and he just giving her munchkin after munchkin for free. She’s just taking them one, by one, by one. After we got our food and we left, we’re standing on the street and there’s a elderly woman standing next to us, and a person comes out of Dunkin Donuts who had just finished whatever he bought and threw the wrapping paper on the ground. The elderly woman with very clear disgust just spoke out loud and said, “Can you imagine somebody would do that?”
My four and a half year old looked at me, and looked at the trash on the ground, and then looked at the woman and said to her, “Why don’t you pick it up?” I got very uncomfortable and I went and picked up the trash from the ground, but it made me really think about things where you have people who are definitely making the world a much dirtier place. Then you have people who can even identify that, that’s a problem, that you shouldn’t be throwing garbage on the ground, but there’s not that many people who are actually going out of their way to still pick it up and make it much cleaner.
I think where we transition into that third place that says that it’s not just enough to say that something that is not good, is not good, because you can say that, that’s wrong, but what are you doing that’s right? What are doing to add something that’s just positive? I think we get scared sometimes because we fit into this very formulaic pattern of what it means to be successful. Our sense of identity is tied to things that we possess and things that we own, and our sense of fulfillment is based off of things that come from outside of us rather than inside of us.
Nobody’s telling us that we need to be honest, we need to be compassionate, we need to be merciful, we need to be just, we need to be loving, we need to be generous. But they’re telling us that our sense of worth is based off of what it is that we drive and how big of that thing it must be. So you’ll learn how to be a doctor, you’ll learn how to be a lawyer, you’ll learn how to be an engineer, you’ll learn how to be an artist, an activist, an academic. But as you’re learning how to be a worker, most of us aren’t really learning how to be thinkers.
We’re not engaged in spaces where we’re understanding why we love what we love or why do we hate what we hate, or why do we desire the things that we desire. Your story is not your story when you force yourself to become someone else’s story. You are where you’re coming from and you are where it is that you’re going to. The only person you need to compare yourself today to is the person you were yesterday. If you want to have a competition with anybody, then make it between those two people. You’ll find yourself in a space where the person you are today is no longer afraid to meet the person that you can become tomorrow.
For every person who seeks to not let you be you, there’s going to be 100 more who want to embrace every part of what it is that you have to offer. But if you can be you, that means that I can also be me.
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