Portland Sun

Susan Steen: You have an entire month to show you care

Susan Steen

“To make a difference in someone’s life, you don’t have to be brilliant, rich, beautiful, or perfect. You just have to care.” — Mandy Hale

I remember the first time I saw a photo submitted by Sabrina in our weekly photography project. She clearly had a great eye for creativity. She had been homeless for almost three weeks.

I have followed her ever since, and I decided last year to become a Patreon to offer too little financial support to her, but it has left me feeling that I have also let her know she isn’t alone or ignored. She has been homeless for three years now.

When I came across Mandy’s words, I felt a bit validated — I might not be brilliant, rich, beautiful, or perfect in anyone else’s eyes, but I care. I definitely care. It might not end homelessness for the country or even for Sabrina, but caring is a pretty decent place to start. It’s May (still) and a great month to care about people in several areas of our country and world.

May is the month of my husband’s birthday, my brother’s birthday, my son and daughter-in-law’s anniversary, and a few other wonderful days celebrated in our family.

In America, May is also Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Mental Health Awareness Month, Jewish American Heritage Month, and National Clean Air Month. Internationally, World Red Cross Day, Victory Day in Europe, International Nurses Day, and World Biodiversity Day also occur in May.

Here at home, Memorial Day and Mother’s Day are fairly notable. And if you are a margarita person, Cinco de Mayo might have already caught your attention. Oh, wait, that’s actually a day to celebrate Mexico’s victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, but I’m not sure it’s celebrated in Mexico the way it is here in the United States. See, there is a lot of history we should still be learning.

Caring about others does not require a national month of this or that, but because there is so much for us to care about, many causes have been given a month in which they can be celebrated and garner some educational moments. 

Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month is one of those celebrations. Why May? May 7, 1843 was the immigration of the first Japanese to America and May 10, 1869 was the completion of the transcontinental railroad. Guess who built it? Mostly Chinese immigrants.

Our Asian American and Pacific Islander friends have contributed much to our country (ours = theirs), and it’s a wonderful thing to be able to celebrate them. You can check out the Smithsonian, the National Archives, and the National Park Service for a few places to learn more. I stand with my friends of Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage. They have enriched my life.

As someone who has dealt with depression in the past and anxiety still at times, Mental Health Awareness Month is a great time for many people to get started with understanding and helping each other. I say helping each other because I do not know anyone personally who hasn’t experienced some mental health issue that has impacted their life in a difficult way at some point in their life.

As far back as 1949, Mental Health America was trying to spread the word, promote mental well-being, and encourage folks to get help when they were struggling. The Mayo Clinic says mental illness includes “depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors.” I know it’s not easy to raise your hand, but with millions of people living undiagnosed and untreated, we need to learn more about what mental illness and what it isn’t. It isn’t a “you’re crazy” label. It is a “life is a lot sometimes” reality.

Please look online for wonderful ways to help yourself. I stand with my friends who have openly dealt with mental health issues and those who have been too afraid to admit their struggles. They have made my life more beautifully textured.

In case you haven’t realized it yet, America is truly a melting pot. We are made up of people from so many cultures, and that’s what makes us such a rich nation. Celebrating Jewish American Heritage Month in May is one more way to educate ourselves about the importance of the Jewish culture, the ugliness and ignorance of antisemitism, and the importance of Jewish immigrants in creating a beautiful America.

Whether you visit JewishAmericanHeritage.org or any other number of sites meant to educate us on the reasons we celebrate our Jewish fellow Americans, it’s worth the time to take a minute to learn. Maybe you’ll even find a new friend who is Jewish, so you can enrich your own life. I stand with my friends in the Jewish community who have added so much to my life experience.

Ask someone with breathing problems, and they’ll probably tell you how much clean air matters for them. National Clean Air Month is also celebrated in May. How will you celebrate? Maybe you’ll bike to work, taking a break from the auto emissions. Clean air outside affects all of us, but the effects of toxins in the air will affect those with breathing issues (asthma, for example) much more harshly.

Have you ever taken time to learn about your area’s clean air efforts? Indoors and outdoors, clean air matters. Considering that nearly half of Americans live without clean air, you and I owe it to ourselves and the next generations to find out what it looks like to take a stand for clean air. I stand with my friends who deal with breathing issues and wish the rest of us would care about the need for safer air to breathe.

I also stand with my friends, and the many I do not know, who have experienced homelessness. From my friend Sabrina on her 15th day of homelessness:

When life is bleak, it’s not answers you need,
but rather solace you should seek.
Take a deep, deeeep breath.
This is not the end, and
it does not mean
you’re weak.
Day 15

Make a difference in someone’s life. You don’t have to be brilliant, rich, beautiful, or perfect. You just have to care.

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. She can be reached at stories@susanbsteen.com.

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