When thinking about what to blog about, I wanted to continue down the path of health and well being, and while I did actually get back on the bandwagon this week, I don’t want to talk about it. I want to tell you about some people I know.
But first, a memory. I was born in Texas and spent the first four years of my life there. While I can recollect a few things, they are mostly attached to photographs I’ve seen, and this plants doubt in my mind about whether or not I’m truly remembering anything. Around my 5th birthday, we moved to Italy. I have quite a few memories from there–wonderful, beautiful, glorious memories, but one of my first was not so pretty. It is the first memory I have where I can actually recall what was said between me and another person instead of just seeing flashes of images in my head. On Easter Sunday, my family set off for church. We were never a church-going family; my mother took me to Mass a handful of times, usually on Christmas Eve or Easter, but that was about it. This particular Easter, instead of going to Mass on the military base, we traveled into the city and chose a beautiful cathedral. As we walked among the stone columns towards the entrance, I noticed a figure huddled on the stairs. It was an old woman in tattered rags, holding a naked infant in her arms. I was in disbelief. I had never seen anyone dressed so poorly. I ran to catch up to my father.
“Dad? Why is that woman sitting there?”, I asked. He glanced behind him to see who I was talking about.
“She wants money,” he replied, “she doesn’t have any”.
“You have money, don’t you?” I asked, looking towards his back pocket where he kept his wallet. I started to feel tears welling up, although at that age I couldn’t have told you why.
“So why don’t you give her some?” He looked at me, and smiled a little, but was probably inwardly a little irritated that I had just emptied his wallet. We approached her, and as he handed her the money, she thanked him profusely in Italian.
I remember that moment in time as vividly as I remember things that have happened within the last few years, and have spent my life feeling drawn to the homeless. I knew from the time I was a teenager that I definitely wanted to get involved, but making that a reality was difficult. Living overseas and dealing with a language barrier didn’t help things, and after I moved back stateside I worked all hours of the day trying to make it on my own for the first time. I married young, and became a young stay at home mother, putting up another barrier between myself and the calling I continued to hear.
Because of my daughters’ diagnosis, I was able to return to school while they attended special education preschool. Last semester, I finally had mornings entirely to myself, and I realized that I no longer had an excuse.
I took a tour of our local rescue mission, but most of what I saw were empty rooms, as the residents were currently showering and getting ready for bed. I had dipped my toes into the pool, but it took a few interviews and a little paperwork before I was thrown into the deep end.
In the morning, when the residents exit the main building after eating breakfast, there is a side room that opens where they can come in and sit out of the elements. They can make phone calls, pick up mail, use the restroom, get help applying to programs, etc. This is where I volunteer. I watch them file in, carrying bags on their backs and dragging luggage behind them. I greet them with a smile. Many smile back and are quite friendly, asking me about my weekend. Some barely acknowledge me. At first I thought it was because they assumed I’d probably get freaked out soon enough and leave, like so many other volunteers before me, but now I know that mostly it’s the demeanor they’ve developed over the years. I suppose if I had lived a similarly hard life, if I had no family to care for me, and if I felt alone in the world, I would behave the same.
In the past 8 months that I’ve been there, 2,000 new people have come through. Some are wearing new, nicely cared for clothes. They have an air of recent misfortune, and usually that is exactly what has happened. When I interview them, I hear about a recent job loss, followed by loss of home. They are determined to get out of there, looking around at the other residents with caution. I’m not like them. Often, I see them once, maybe two Mondays in a row, and then never again. But there are others.