For those of you familiar with my writing, first of all, thank you for reading the words that stumble out of my mind and heart and into the blogosphere. Second of all, for those of you who regularly read said words, you have come to know that I work at a day shelter for homeless men and that these men are near and dear to my heart. Along with my two daughters, these men are among my greatest teachers and inspirations, and they have opened my mind, heart, and eyes in countless ways.
Last night, I was overwhelmed by the crowd of over 500 people who came together to support the work that we do at the day shelter at our annual fundraiser. Of all the wonderful people in attendance, one man in particular was the shining star who stole the show and our hearts. Calvin is a former guest at the day shelter, whose big smile, deep voice, and large stature made him impossible to miss, yet most people never saw him while he lived on the streets. Last night, though, he was seen in a whole new light, as he starred in a video showcasing his journey from homelessness to entering one of our permanent supportive housing programs last year. The man who was once invisible was now basking in the spotlight, deservedly so.
His story had many people, myself included, in tears, and Calvin beamed with pride and joy. After the video presentation, he found himself surrounded by a throng of admirers, and he definitely enjoyed the attention. As I watched him revel in his newfound celebrity, I wondered if any of his new fans had seen him on the streets, yet not given him a second glance. I wondered if they, like I have done, averted their eyes out of discomfort, embarrassment, helplessness, etc., and if they, again like I have done, passed judgment on him and assumed that he had done something that had brought this misfortune upon himself. I wondered about all of the other “Calvins” in the world who remain unseen, both homeless and otherwise, and I felt conflicting feelings of gratitude that Calvin was now thriving and feelings of sadness and shame that so many others are barely surviving, in one way, shape, or form.
It is easy to be kind to those we deem to be worthy of our help and compassion, but when we become the judge and jury who impose a harsh sentence on a fellow human being by only seeing their condition or circumstance, instead of who they are, we all are condemned. Calvin and all of the other men have taught me that the word “homeless” describes their living situation, not who they are, and that they are not “those people”, as they are simply people. They are human beings, men, fathers, brothers, sons, spouses, friends, employees, veterans, and every other possible person we encounter, and they are worthy of our time, energy, effort, care, and concern to assist them. They deserve to be seen, and if we remove our blinders, we may be overwhelmed by what there is to see, as beauty is found in the most unlikely people, places, and things.
As the event wound down, I stole a moment alone with Calvin, who held me close to him in a friendly side hug. As we chatted about the wonderful evening, his grin grew even broader, as he remarked, “I just can’t believe how nice all of these people are and that they all want to help us.” I returned his smile and said, “I can believe it, because you and the rest of the guys deserve it.” Not to be outdone, Calvin responded, “Kristi, we all deserve that. All of us.” Yes, we certainly do!
Just one thing each day . . .