tonight was the end of an intimate time spent with a group of people for 2 weeks. tomorrow, they pack their things, and are out the door by 8 am.
i was listening to every conversation i could, trying to suck in the last discussions and intense thoughts. i heard more than one person confide in another that s/he was hoping it won’t rain tomorrow.
i’m a fan of rain. i love it. cold and rainy are my preferred weather conditions. oh- and puddles. jumping in puddles is a life necessity. I’ll be doing it up until my dying day. its a big deal to me, and i rejoice when i hear we will have blessed, glorious rain and puddles.
after awhile, as more people came, and our room filled up, i heard my other volunteer friends claim excitedly that rain was coming. it tends to be a big deal when we get water- it is almost a luxury; a novelty- and most all of the room was excited.
i noticed the homeless guests sitting near me both begin to cry. i realized that we had failed to truly remember that some of us would have no roof tomorrow night. our laughing delight about the rain was very bad news for them.
the insensitivity around the room increased, and i diminished smaller and smaller until i felt like a couscous crumb. i was ashamed at not realizing my mistakes earlier.
i started with the homeless. i went to each of them and whispered in their ear about being safe and surviving the rain. i told them how much i hated having to force them out back into the dangerous world. i wanted to have a house, maybe a room, a couch, a place to offer to them. i wanted to have something, and as i looked into their eyes, the panic and grief in me grew stronger, and i was feeling a depth of my compassion and a desperate hope tumbled together in a tear-inducing mix. i experienced a spiritual feeling of being an exploding volcano – lava bubbling up and oozing out, into the light where everyone could see it.
then i started talking to those who had roofs they were going to be under tomorrow: all day, all night – and i said that i felt it was insensitive to be so gung-ho about the rain in the presence of these people that were praying for the rain to go away; that the rain would pass through and that they would be dry tomorrow night and through the weekend.
and then i started to say goodbye.
the first women i saw – the one with children- grabbed me close to her, rested her head on my shoulder and then pulled back and held her hand tightly onto my hand – my fingers started to grow numb. she was unabashedly crying. i was surprised to notice that my cheeks were wet as well.
as i write this i am crying. its not about guilt, its about gratefulness. its about truly believing that every sentient being is part of the web of life, and that this web is priceless. we are living in a treasure chest with all of humanity – yet we squabble about the dog’s shit on our lawn, or the way our mechanic failed to completely fix something on our car. it isn’t out of guilt or prodding or even remembering to be thankful. it is about something bigger and different; about dignity and worth. it is – essential to our roles as fellow members of this gift of the web of life.
and it isn’t just the dark places or the 3rd world countries, or that orphanage down in mexico. it isn’t just haiti or sudan or egypt. it is the all of humanity — the recognition of respect in one another. truly treating people as if they mattered more than anything else.
now my tears are splashing on the keys and i’m making bad typos. i need to stop writing this. but i will continue to cry for the lack of justice, the lack of compassion, the lack of love. nothing should separate us so differently from each other.
from childhood in the evangelical church up until my last years at a baptist church, i was taught that homeless people were dirty and bad. you could go maybe wash dishes at a shelter or help, but when you came home, you would ‘clean yourself up,’ say a prayer and then forget about the good you had done. the cliche has always been dirty and bad, and lately the rhetoric is about what people deserve, and how lazy they are and if they would just get their shit together and try! things would work out for them.
it isn’t about being lazy or about what others think other people deserve. who in the world are we to decide? what makes us have the ability to look down at people who have less than us and say with such conviction “they’re lazy” “they’re drunk” “they don’t deserve help” “they feel sorry for themselves”.
i remember when i first heard my best friend from high school admit that she believed that people on welfare or income were lazy and not motivated; that they were getting tattooed with their school money and buying more and more expensive phones.. on, and on, and on, until i unfriended and blocked her because she was more offensive and calloused then i could possibly live with. 15+ year relationship – poof! gone just like that.
my whole body trembles with the humiliation and thoughtlessness of so many of us, and how sometimes we throw money at problems and feel we’ve done our part; but until we have looked into empty, broken eyes, we can’t imagine what it means to be them. and those that brag about their tattooes or iphones or gadgets? they have nothing else to share with the rest of society. and the rest of society looks back at them with loathing and cries: “YOU DON’T DESERVE IT!” — you are not important, you are not loved, you are not cared about.
what else could we possibly say?
you are a precious part of the web of life. you deserve dignity, worth, and love. you are part of me, and i of you. i treat you as i would myself. i believe in your purpose and existence so much, that i would do anything to help you continue to live… free, deserving and respected.
some of us reach our hands and ourselves across and into the darkness. we have acknowledged and lived our own, and so we can acknowledge and be patient with others. i hope we are all able to recognize not only how much we have been given and treated kindly, but also how much we even think about other people. how do we value other people, and have a true and genuine compassion for them?
… does not the rain fall on both wealthy and poor? the righteous and the unrighteous? where will you be if it rains tomorrow? how can you affirm another precious, wild life in the midst of the storm?