“You just try to do the best you can and live decent, for my son Kevin and me. He’s special needs.”
The four graduation caps hanging on the living room wall aren’t just there for decoration. They’re a symbol of the pride that Rita Harris has in her children. Though only the youngest, Kevin, lives with her now, this single mom is still busting at the seams. “He graduated in 2010 from Elmhurst High School with a certificate. I’m real proud of him, really proud.” She says.
I had the privilege of spending time with Rita this week as a couple of the Grub ‘n’ Go Guys, a group of men from a local church who gather Tuesday and Thursday mornings to serve NeighborLink recipients, fixed various things around her house.
Rita doesn’t work full time because she stays home to take care of Kevin, her special-needs son. As a result, she’s a low-income resident of the area, and can’t afford a lot of repairs to her house. NeighborLink volunteers Steve Ferris and David Byudom showed up today to cover a gaping hole next to her tub with shower wall material, and measure for a sink that they will install in the near future. Since her last sink stopped working, Rita and her son have had to use the sink in the kitchen to wash their hands; and have kept a bucket in the bathroom so that they can brush their teeth.
But the kitchen sink isn’t without its own problems. This single mother couldn’t use the right side of the sink because the pipes underneath would leak into the cabinet below, pouring water all over the floor and into the basement. “It’s not so bad, at least I could use the left side to wash dishes and everything,” she reminded me, “but it sure will be nice now that I can use both sides of my sink.”
“You just try to do the best you can and live decent…” This sentence hit me like a freight train. Or like I hit my head on the three-foot entryway to the basement where her washer and dryer hide. What does it mean to “live decent?” To Rita, it means having a sink in her bathroom and being able to take care of her son. To another person it may mean a fresh coat of paint in the living room, or a new roof to get rid of leaks. Maybe it means self-respect, or maybe it means grace. Maybe it’s a NeighborLink project, or maybe it’s something else, but I think that in this statement, Rita is hitting pretty close to the root of what it means to pursue justice. What would it look like if I made it my goal to help others to live decent? How would I act? How would I talk? Where would I invest my time and resources?
I don’t know yet, but I can’t think of a better thing to which we can dedicate our lives.