Stained Glass Windows

Posted: April 28, 2008 in Acceptance, Compassion, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Self Esteem, Stereotypes

One reader left a comment to yesterday’s post and added this quote by Swiss-born psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross,

"People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within."

I have to admit that I’d never heard of Dr. Kubler-Ross but the quote was so beautiful that I had to find about her.  

According to the Wikipedia entry for Dr. Kubler-Ross, after moving to the U.S. in 1958 she continued her study of medicine but was "…she was appalled by the hospital treatment of patients who were dying."

She is also the one who proposed what is called the "Five Stages of Grief" that terminally ill patients go through. What I found interesting about these five stages is how closely they parallel phases that a person who finds themselves homeless experiences.

Here they are:

  1. Denial: "It can’t be happening."

  2. Anger: "Why me? It’s not fair."

  3. Bargaining: "Just let me live to see my children graduate."

  4. Depression: "I’m so sad, why bother with anything?"

  5. Acceptance: "It’s going to be OK."

It made the quote the reader left with their comment all the more poignant to me.

When I’d first read the quote, the reference to stained glass windows made me think of Gothic Cathedrals. In my mind’s eye, I could envision the sunlight streaming through the panes and the colored light playing on the interior surfaces. Then I could imagine the view from the outside at night, with the candle light playing on the surface of the glass and glowing in a wondrous illumination.

But there was another thought that occurred as well: sacredness.

There is no life which lacks value. It doesn’t matter whether the person is housed or is homeless. The very fact that they are of the family of man, means that they are, as the Declaration of Independence states, "…endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…"

What I like about Dr. Kubler-Ross’ likening people to stained glass windows is that it is a reminder that everyone has the potential to shine with beauty. But just like windows that can be dimmed by so much pollution and soot that the light can barely be seen through the panes, there are also lives that have been dimmed by the experience of homelessness.

They struggle through their own Five Stages of Grief. Some can become so overwhelmed by the experience that it becomes virtually impossible for them to recover. Others become so scarred by homelessness, even if they are able to find a way back into the mainstream community will still feel as though they are outcasts.

I realize that quite often it isn’t easy to see the inner beauty of a person who is homeless – especially since most homeless persons don’t necessarily have a wholesome outer appearance. Usually when we do see them their clothing isn’t exactly their "Sunday best" but, we must consider how we would look if we only owned one or two sets of clothes; or if we didn’t have access to laundering facilities. Would we look our best?

Also, what if we had to carry around with us all of worldly possessions day after day? What if we couldn’t find a place to get out of the extremes of weather? What if we had to sleep out of doors night after night because there were no available beds at the local shelter? And, what if we had access to only one meal per day, like so many of the homeless? Wouldn’t the stained glass windows of our personal cathedrals be slightly dimmed?

What we so often don’t realize is that there are many homeless who are trying to clean the stained glass windows of their lives. They are struggling to gain a foot hold back into the community. They are desperate to have others see the beauty within.

They aren’t asking for the world to give them everything on a silver platter. They’re willing to put in the effort needed to escape the streets.

All they need is for someone to help them clean their stained glass windows so that they can shine with the rest of us.

  1. AnAmerican says:

    Such wonderful insight you offer up on the “grief” of homelessness. Great post!

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