By Michael Carroll
Everybody thinks they know the true meaning of being grateful; they don’t.
I think the only people who know the true meaning of being grateful are the homeless.
When I went to a men’s homeless shelter I learned the true meaning of being grateful.
When we got to downtown Atlanta, all I could see were homeless men and women on the sides of the road. When I got to the shelter, the men were lined up orderly, eagerly waiting to enter the warm and safe shelter.
Several years ago my family went to a men’s homeless shelter in downtown Atlanta. The first thing I noticed on the way there were all the homeless that filled the streets. Many of the homeless were just sitting there in despair, the temperature at 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Looking at their breath in the air, I realized I was in a warm car.
Some were pushing grocery carts filled with their belongings with everything they owned, mostly cardboard boxes and plastic bags.
I thought back to my house, with all of my belongings, all of my clothes, food, and toys. Many of them did not have gloves to warm their hands; the rest did not even have jackets.
I kept remembering all of the jackets I had at home that I never wore because they were not “in style.”
When we made it to the homeless shelter, the men were lined up waiting to get warmth, rest and food. Each man was assigned a number and was required to sign in. When the shelter was full they would not let anyone else in the shelter.
When they came in, you would have thought they won the lottery. Large smiles and occasional “woops” came from the men on entry.
On this particular night a generous family had purchased each man a pair of gloves, underwear, a pair of socks, a t-shirt and a hat. They were overjoyed when they got underwear and their other gifts and the men thanked us graciously.
On Christmas morning when I wake up and open presents and get socks as a gift I just throw them to the side. When the men got socks, they thanked us and some even asked for another pair.
I can never recall asking for more socks for Christmas.
After they received their gifts, they ran to claim their spot where they would sleep and they put their belongings on their mat, which was on a hard cold floor.
My bed is large and warm; a stream of guilt ran through me.
Then they went and sat down at the table and waited for dinner to be served. That night dinner was an excitement to the men because we were serving meat, not pasta.
I never thought chuck roast was something to be excited about. My mom always makes a nice warm dinner at home, and I never thought to thank her.
The men kept asking if there would be enough for seconds as I served them with my family. Once they were done eating they stood up and clapped and thanked us for a couple of minutes for the warmth, chuck roast, and clothing.
That night as I lay in bed I was thinking of how blessed I was. Not only do I have a nice loving family, but I also have a warm comfortable bed. I have seconds any time I want, I have clean clothes and buy new ones regularly and never feel excited or grateful. That night I saw how blessed I was and how unfortunate and difficult the homeless men’s life was.
I now know I should not take simple things for granted like a clean pair of underwear. I know that I should be thankful for my warm bed, my clean house and loving family. Something all of these people lacked.
I know that not only men are homeless but also woman and children. I know being warm, not hungry, and loved should be appreciated.
Whenever I eat now, I always remember to thank my mom for something she has made for dinner, thinking back to the men who had no food.
[Michael Carroll is a sixth-grade honor student at J.C. Booth Middle School. He recently received a Black Belt in karate and plays the oboe in the sixth-grade advanced band. He enjoys hanging out with his friends, video games and enjoys the outside. The Peachtree City Rotary Club recently honored Michael in their “Laws of Life” essay contest in which Michael placed first in the sixth grade.
(Local teachers may submit high quality student essays for consideration, though there is no assurance of selection or publication. Submit by email to Terry Garlock, community volunteer, at email@example.com)]