Perspective: Inspired by the Lights in Daley Plaza

Linda Hailey sitting at a bus stop during the Christmas Tree lighting at Daley Plaza on November 20th (Kevin Gebhardt/ For WCHI News)

The switch was flipped and Daley Plaza was aglow with the spectacularly beautiful Christmas tree that is the centerpiece of the plaza’s seasonal Christkindlmarket. A wonderful symbol of joy and celebration that marks the most uplifting aspects of our human condition, among which are faith, hope and charity.

Linda Hailey also witnessed the tree lighting ceremony. To the gathered crowd she pleaded, “Please bless me with spare change.” Most people ignored her appeal. Yet her message is more integral to the tree lighting than the commercial pleasures of the season.

Hailey exists in the margins of our peripheral sight. She is forced to beg for our charity out of desperation and hopelessness. Like many in Chicago, she is suffering from financical struggles and is looking for ways to make a little extra to survive. “I never thought it come to this,” she says. The change she collects goes towards the smaller things like laundry or a cup of coffee. She lives in a group home for disabled senior citizens. Her rent is subsidized by government assistance and she lives on food stamps to survive.

As most of us enjoy the bounty of holiday feasts, 42.2 million Americans will be on food stamps – according to the Economic Policy Institute – or about as many people living in California and Connecticut combined, according to U.S. News & World Report. And a report by the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit government watchdog group, said that its Food Stamp Challenge program estimates that a person receiving such aid has a budget of about $1.25 per meal. As U.S. News suggests, a person on food stamps must buy an entire meal for less than the average cost of a cup of coffee.

Linda Hailey does not see herself as down and out. Her words are inspirational and enlightening. She says, “Never look down on people, regardless of what they make, what they own or what they do.” She deeply appreciates those who help her with her struggles. She shares the crowd’s upbeat mood and sense of wonderment that the blazing tree lights inspire. Hailey continues to be engaged with life. She is proud to have been politically active. She has supported races for Governor and President and marched for causes that she believes in. She is hopeful for her future.

Most importantly, she is here, with us, among us, living a life of struggles and celebrations. The Daley Plaza tree is lit for all of us who live by the core values of faith, hope and charity. Some simply need a little more than others.

As I am inspired by the tree, I am reminded of its meaning by Linda Hailey.