Saturday, November 14, 2009
With winter upon us, it’s a good time to reflect upon the extremes of need that will exist this year for those who are not yet housed and are living on the street. I found this entry in my journal from the end of last summer, when I still volunteered at the Second Chance Cafe, run by The Stewpot at the Bridge, and thought I would share it. KS
Journal Archives, Friday, August 16, 2008
Sometimes the amount of need among people who are experiencing homeless in Dallas — even with the welcome advent of the Bridge, our new homeless assistance center — seems overwhelming. This was one of those nights. The enormity of the problems of the people involved, the monumental scope of the pain in their lives, the scarcity of readily available solutions, such as adequate housing: these things were at the forefront of my mind tonight as I left the Second Chance Cafe at the Bridge after helping to serve dinner to somewhere between seven hundred and eight hundred people.
Of course, this evening’s bright spot was, as it always is, looking into the eyes of people as they came through the food line. Always, but even more so tonight, the eyes of the guests meeting mine as they came through the line — almost without exception — were full of light, respect and dignity, longing for acceptance, willingness to respond with love to the smallest kindness — so much more so than I would ever be able to be in their circumstances. They almost always say ‘Very Blessed,’ or at the least ‘Can’t complain,’ when asked how they are doing. The other great blessings are the other volunteers, who show up every week, and the Stewpot staff, which shows up every day.
I find that if I just hand somebody a plate in the food line at the Bridge, they may be looking down, preoccupied or frowning, and go on their way with a ‘thank you,’ but without ever looking up. If I greet them or ask how they are doing, their whole face, their whole being changes — they become radiant. If I say their name, they become a friend. And that is no different than you or me. It’s just that the desperate nature of their circumstances keeps it real: they know how much it means to have a friend, and what it means not to have any.
Why is it that sometimes, like tonight, I look at homeless individuals and the scope of homelessness in Dallas and feel weighed down by the challenges? Is it seeing people as their ‘diagnosis’ or label rather than seeing them just as the people they are, in the here and now? Maybe.
I usually see the beauty when I go to the Bridge. Tonight I could only see how far there is to go. It was one of those rare times when I say to myself, “How do those who deal with this face to face every single day — for example, the Stewpot staff or the caseworkers and management at the Bridge — how do they do it all the time without losing hope or becoming jaded?” Granted, I think, write or talk about homelessness in Dallas every day, but I go to the Bridge only a couple of times a month.
Perhaps it’s a ‘fix-it’ mentality that one can get into, although trying to ‘fix it’ is a necessary component of approaching the problem as a whole. Sometimes, though, until we can figure out what we need to ‘do,’ maybe it has to be enough just to go to where the pain is and ‘be with’ it. It seems that there is tremendous grace in that. In face, maybe, while action is necessary, being present for someone is the most important part of taking action anyway.
Granted, it may not be enough to ‘hang out’ with people who are experiencing homelessness. But being with them, talking with them, sharing their concerns — one human to another — is one of the most essential parts of what we do, just as it is with our families.