I remember it like it was yesterday, riding home from Virginia by train and passing through the heart of Philadelphia. For miles, the tracks were lined with nothing more than dilapidated houses, abandoned cars, and mounds upon mounds of trash. At just nineteen years old, growing up on the South Shore of Massachusetts, I had never seen anything like this before and watched in melancholy. The feeling inside me was a combination of helplessness and sorrow. I didn't understand how anyone could live like this; then I saw the cages.
Looking back, I can't recall the expression on my face, although my best guess would be to describe it as lifeless. It was in this very moment that I knew I appreciated where I lived, the place that I got to call home each and every day. In that moment all I could do was think about children born into this environment of no fault of their own - living a life with no grass, no swing sets, no lakes to swim in, no safe streets to explore, and no open back yard.
For miles, there was nothing except rows of three story identical houses - placed precariously close to the tracks. I remember trying to focus on the sound of the train while my mind processed what I was seeing. I remember that most of the houses were touching, although there was a rare alleyway between them here and there. I also remember that on the back of each house was a single door encased by a metal cage. They looked to me like glorified dog kennels at a rundown dog pound, providing conditions that are barely humane for an animal, yet there they were filled with rubbish barrels and children's toys.
I remember closing my eyes and taking a deep breath in, half expecting to wake up from a dream when I opened them. I wouldn't say that I woke up from a dream that day but I would say that when I opened my eyes, I woke up. My lens of reality had been permanently shifted, a piece of lack of appreciation struck from my being. Seeing that my view of reality had been limited my entire life, was enough to change the scope in which I viewed every moment thereafter. For as long as I live I will never forget that train ride home or, what I received that day, the gift of appreciation.