Last week, I gave quarters to a homeless woman. This was the price I paid for learning a little bit more about life than I could have in class, but in my opinion, it was a bargain. Last Thursday, I was walking past Allegro's when the infamous grey-haired "Allegro's Lady" -- the homeless woman who stations herself outside the pizza place every day -- came up to me asking for change. Admittedly, I usually don't go into my wallet to give quarters out to the homeless -- I have been warned too many times by overly cautious Penn students, my parents and my fifth-grade safety icon, Safety Pup, to neither make eye contact with strangers on the street, nor reach into my wallet to show them how much is in there (usually, if I'm lucky, two dollar bills and a receipt). I happened to have a couple of loose quarters in my pocket, and I gave her my change. I walked on and didn't give her another thought for the rest of the week. But on Monday morning, as I walked to class, I noticed the same homeless woman again. Rather than sitting on the corner of 40th and Spruce, she was walking up and down Spruce Street, doing something I never would've guessed she would with all the quarters she had collected. Knowingly or not, she was feeding the meters. As I continued walking to class that day, I couldn't shake the image of the Allegro's woman from my thoughts. Here was a woman that presumably had neither a job nor a home, and she was taking the money she received to help other people. She was turning charity that she had received into charity for others. I spent the rest of the day in Wonder Years-like contemplation. Short of the voiceover, Paul's insistent whining and Wayne threatening to hurt me in some way if I told Mom, I was Fred Savage reincarnate. There are a lot of days at Penn when I sit in the library, listening to the typing of other Penn students checking their e-mail, and grow really fed up with my schoolwork. Often, after reading hundreds of pages on obscure facts about Marie Antoinette's marriage problems, I find myself wondering aloud in annoyed disgust to my friends, "How is any of this relevant to my life?" (The answer I receive usually comes out in the form of sympathetic low-toned grunts which are barely comprehensible, even for someone like me who has been to the Philadelphia Zoo several times.) For the most part, most of the actual facts I learn for exams from my schoolwork, and probably most of the facts you learn from yours -- yes, even you, Whartonistas -- are not going to be particularly valuable in our careers, short of the skills they lend us in becoming better writers, thinkers and speakers. But sometimes I can't help but feel really disillusioned about the importance of all my work. Why does it matter? What's the point of it all? How is it applicable? That day that I saw that woman filling the meters with quarters, I learned more than I learned from my work. While we toil away at the library, solving problem sets, memorizing dates and outlining essays, the "Allegro's Lady" was being kind, whether consciously or not. The actions of the "Allegro's Lady" reminded me of where personal meaning truly is. It is not in what we read at Penn, but in what we do at Penn, how we act and how we treat the people around us. Somehow, she was extracting the meaning that I have long been looking for in my textbooks from her own life. It was then that I realized that this is what we need to do to really learn from our daily lives. We can be, and always will be, one another's best teachers, if we would only listen to the lesson.Comments powered by Disqus
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