Dignity means knowing that you have worth, purpose, and belong in the world. Dignity strips away any notion or erroneous idea that you are an outcast and have no voice.
Two weeks ago, I met a gentleman named Mark digging in the trashcan behind our building. He’s a sixty-year-old man, and instead of asking him to leave, I was interested in knowing him and his story. I asked, “Do you mind telling me your story and how you got here?”
“Well, I’m not a beggar. That’s why I eat out of trashcans. I’ve been living homeless in the Atlanta area for three years. I’ve experienced tons of loss too. First, my wife and I lost our son, then I lost my wife, then I lost my job…” Mark said.
He continued before I could ask another question, “Also, I am adopted. In fact, I have never known my family, and the person that was my caretaker abused me mentally and physically. She’s no longer living, so I have no one…or anywhere to belong.”
Could you imagine being faced with poverty, homelessness, experiencing loss, not having a voice in society, and being stripped of the idea that you belong anywhere?
Every single day, people who are faced with poverty and homelessness or any type of injustice feel this sense of isolation in the world. That’s why noticing people where they are is super important.
Noticing people gives persons carrying burdens—dignity, and reveals to them that their very essence matters. After getting to know Mark, our organization has been able to provide temporary housing for him and is now walking along side him to assist him in recovering vital documents needed for him to take steps forward in life.
Not only, have we given Mark a community and somewhere to belong. We have given him the dignity he needs to build upon. Dignity is to a person what a foundation is for a house. Without dignity, there is nothing to build upon.
I personally find dignity in the work that we do with Love Beyond Walls because we get a chance to restore dignity to those who feel outcast through authentic relationships. It’s probably the most important part of our work—to let people know that their stories matter and they belong in the world.
In fact, I personally find dignity in the same manner. For me, I constantly rely on my faith in God to assure me that my very existence has meaning and purpose. As I am affirmed in that thought, it pushes me to live a life that affirms others in the same way.
Do I have it all together? No. But that’s the beautiful thing about dignity. Dignity has a built in grace component that suggests it’s okay to be perfectly imperfect.
Terence Lester, Founder of Love Beyond Walls