“Joy is the secret gift of compassion. We keep forgetting it and thoughtlessly look elsewhere. But each time we return to where there is pain, we get a new glimpse of the joy that is not of this world.”
~~Henri Nouwen, Here and Now
Ups and Downs
The mobile soup kitchen feeding run last Thursday night was exhilarating and depressing, both in the extreme. It was very cold, and several people at the first and second stops (beside bridges on Industrial Boulevard) lacked even the basics for staying warm.
We had two new volunteers from Centex Corporation; they were wonderful and seemed to be very moved by the experience. When we finished the run, both said they’d never done anything quite like it, even though one of them had previously volunteered in a homeless shelter. They plan to get more involved.
At our first stop, I got off the truck to talk to people — mostly day laborers, the working homeless: one man’s a former university professor. There several people didn’t have any socks, hats, or gloves. A couple of us gave away our stocking caps, but we didn’t have any spare socks.
At the next stop, a young man, who had only been on the street for twenty-four hours, told me he was just so cold he could barely think: he was wearing a thin shirt and a light denim jacket. We had some donated clothes to distribute, but nothing warm, so I gave him my fleece pullover. It’s hard for people to think of the next step in getting their lives together when all their attention’s focused on the cold.
At the third stop, there was Robin, who’s about six months pregnant. I’m going to bring her some prenatal vitamins next week, but, hopefully, by the time the baby comes, she’ll be off the street.
One piece of good news is that Daniel, a homeless man who often rides the truck with us and helps us serve, is now employed. He went to work for one of the volunteers who owns a roofing company. Although we miss him on the truck — he’s a great organizational force as well as being very funny and brilliantly political — it is great news that he has a job.
It’s hard to imagine the level of need that’s out there in our own backyards, so to speak, especially in the cold. The people we feed are so grateful, so loving, and the mix is surprising — many who’ve been out there a long time and some who could be your next-door neighbor. As another volunteer said to me recently, “You can clearly see that many of these people are just one step away from being able to put together a normal life.”
When I awoke Friday morning after the Thursday night run, it was with an extreme awareness of my blessings, large and small. Although I generally try to stop and smell the roses, that morning I felt intensely the joy of having a beautiful white lace curtain across my French doors which I could tie back with a piece of gold Christmas cord. The simple act of putting a pan of water on the stove for a cup of tea was a cause of great pleasure, so fortunate did I feel for having cup, pan, tea, water, stove, kitchen and home. The blessings of this work are very great, the disappointments notwithstanding. I only wish all my peeps out there on the street had their own dwellings to cherish as much as I cherish mine.