With one final flick of the wrist, with one last song, with one last walk, and with one last train ride my days as a street performer ended. For this summer anyway. The next coming weeks will bring chaos, as I move out of one dwelling and never really settle into another one until school starts. I’ll also be crisscrossing the nation, from Chicago to Detroit to Green Bay to Kansas—and back again, before finally settling in St. Paul, Minnesota.
A street performer, huh? You must think I’m crazy. What kind of a respectable person would degrade themselves to performing on the street for money? Well, you’re looking at one. While this hasn’t been the greatest money making summer of my life, it has probably been the greatest experience maker–and it’s not even over yet. The things you see and the people you interact with traveling downtown create an experience that no ordinary job at Toys R Us could possibly have given. And when you’re an aspiring writer, that’s always a plus. Breaking out of our comfort zone is something we always need to do. Coming from an affluent, white, upper-middle class neighborhood, family, and school, this is the kind of experience you truly need to open your eyes to the larger world around you. While it hasn’t been the most profitable experience monetarily, I still consider street performing to be invaluable.
If you only consider the monetary aspect, it’s a faith enhancing experience. My only income came from what people donated to my box. Pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and one-dollar bills–and your occasional off hand $5 or free samples that nobody else wanted—I have four bottles of Head & Shoulders. Not only does your income depend on the passing people, it also depends on your body and the weather. Believe it or not, yo-yoing can be pretty strenuous. If you don’t believe this, you haven’t seen me yo-yo. Today my yo-yo finger boasts a large, callused blister. And when the rain comes down, the money doesn’t come in. With obstacles like these, prayer becomes your number one asset. I’ve never prayed so much in my entire life. But when you trust God to provide, He will. I still strongly believe that. Yo-yoing has put my food on the table for the summer, and provided me with what little spending cash I needed. Now I certainly haven’t stored up a large horde of wealth from street performing, but here is where I continue to rely on God. He brought the money I needed for the summer, and I continue to trust that he will take care of my expenses. If my books for school cost more than I expect, or if my truck needs new brakes or shocks, I trust that God will provide.
This isn’t exactly the easiest way to live. Most of the people I know would shudder at the thought. Get a real job, kid. Make some real money. But money isn’t what it’s about. And I refuse to chase the almighty dollar in an attempt to horde what I can. My needs have been met, and I am satisfied. Why ask for more? Few will understand this, and I grant you that. Security is a hard thing to let go. And at this I must pause to thank my parents. Although grudgingly, they allowed me to go through my summer like this, working an unpaid internship and yo-yoing on the streets for cash—not something most parents would be proud of. I’m sure they still have their regrets, but they can’t possibly understand the summer of invaluable experiences this has given me—both from my internship and from life on the streets. Thanks Mom & Dad.
But aside from the monetary gains (or lack thereof) and the reliance on God’s provision, comes eye opening encounters with real life. Growing up in a predominately rich, white suburb, you come to understand certain things. There’s a sort of hidden racism ingrained in your head. Possessions and money and stuff surround you. It seems normal. It seems expected. But that’s not how everyone lives. And everything you’ve been told isn’t true. I’ve met people who have nothing. They have no roof to keep their stuff under. What they have on them is what they can call theirs. Unsafe, unfriendly, dangerous; these are the words that describe the inner city. Perhaps that’s true in some areas, but as a general rule, it’s bunk. My mother would probably gasp if she saw the people I’ve met, the man I sat next to on the train, the man I gave a sandwich to. These are the people your mother tells you not to talk to. But I did. And you know what I learned? It’s the well dressed, white people who rudely walk through my yo-yo act—almost getting hit—who don’t offer a shred of humanity. They don’t offer a coin, they don’t offer a smile, they don’t even respect your space. The dirty, crippled, homeless black man I passed everyday had more humanity. Obviously not everyone who passed by me fits that description, but it’s startling to simply observe and notice the trends. Shattering your expectations and your comfort zones is something that needs to happen if you expect to see the world with open eyes. You can’t close your eyes to the world’s problems and the world’s suffering. This summer has allowed those prejudices, stereotypes, fears, and preconceived notions to be cracked. They may still be chipping off and breaking away, but at least they’re beginning to be broken.
This world is not my home, and I cannot allow myself to take comfort in the safety of similarity for the sake of fear. As I walk across this earth I must realize every man is my brother, every woman my sister. I must realize that every one is in need. Each has a deep spiritual need that I must not ignore. For some it requires meeting their physical needs and showing some compassion. For all it requires showing the love of Christ. A love that is beyond me. A love that in my own power I cannot give. But I do not travel this world alone. Christ walks beside me, accompanying me down the dark streets, past the men a mother wouldn’t want to making eye contact with, past the respectable men a mother would smile upon. And he loves them all and gives me the power to show them that love.
This summer has been spent learning. I certainly haven’t learned it all, and I never will. But I can say this with confidence: What I gained this summer I wouldn’t trade for the thousands of dollars I could have made working a real job like a normal college student. Life is more than that.