I used to have this old crotchety neighbor named Mr. Al. He was hands down the second worst neighbor I've ever had. (The only neighbor worse than him was the lady who got drunk and drove up her brand new deck and smashed into her own house in the middle of the night while I had five little girls camping a few years away in my tent for a sleepover birthday party.) That was a little worse than Mr. Al who's just being old and bossy. It's taken me a lot of years to learn this about myself, but I don't like to be bossed. If you tell me to check my email I will not check my email. I will likely throw away my computer and end our friendship. I'm working on this by the way. (Except that I'm not.) The point is that Mr. Al really bumped up against my personal pet peeve of being bossed around. Literally every time I had a conversation with Mr. Al he was always telling me what to do.
He (aggressively) told me who to vote for, he told me how to invest all the money I still don't have, he told me where to put my mulch and also to have an abortion because I was really sick during my pregnancy. He was always so grouchy and bossy and unapologetic that I couldn't take it. Still, I tried really hard to be nice to him. We made a lot of effort to serve him and show him love, kindness and patience... even when I secretly felt violent. Even when we explained why were were okay with "the blacks" moving in.
We had a breakthrough several years ago with Mr. Al when I brought him a meal and he Disney-frenched me in excitement. That upsetting kiss showed me that even the loneliest and grouchiest among us need a little TLC. And when they get the TLC they might respond with a little PDA.
We no longer live next to Mr. Al, but since we have been back at our old house repairing damages, he has been on our minds lately. So, we invited him to join us for Grandpa Day. If you aren't familiar with Grandpa Day, allow me to explain. Grandpa Day is a fictitious holiday where we all gather to deep fry various foods in oil, under the guise of celebrating Grandpa. It's not a real thing. It's just something we made up so we can eat donuts. Mr. Al did not come to Grandpa Day. Because he hates joy and fried dough and babies and black people and all the other good things in the world. Still, I brought home a piece of pie to bring to him later. I am counting that and the impending geriatric makeout sesh as my #AdamsActs for Day 29.
For Day 30, I participated in a great opportunity to connect with some of the homeless population in Rochester. My friend Allie heads up a community organization called Supports on the Streets. What I really appreciate about their vision is that it is all relationship-based with an emphasis on helping without hurting. Sure, we brought some care packages with essentials (see list below for needed items) and some dental hygiene kits, but more than that... we simply connected with people who are often marginalized. The best part of the evening for me was connecting with a man who also considers himself a writer. He told us about his poetry and about a book he is writing. I told him that his story is an inspiration for me to keep writing and he asked if we could exchange our writing sometime. I'm about 99% sure that this guy is a better writer than I will ever be, so I am looking forward to that exchange - not just of our writing but our experiences.
The homeless population in our country is often invisible. Please consider how you might be able to love on the most under-served people in your community. I hear a lot of Christians talk about "being Jesus" to others. But in scripture Jesus refers to the hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, sick and imprisoned and says that "whatever you did for the least of these you did for me." Followers of Christ hear this and the takeaway is to "Be Jesus" to those who are marginalized. But I don't think that is what Jesus is saying. He didn't say to be him. He said that how we treat the marginalized is how we treat him. We aren't supposed to "Be Jesus" to the marginalized, we are supposed to treat the marginalized as if they were Jesus. However we would interact with Jesus himself if he was living in a tent off the inner loop is exactly how we should interact with the poet I met tonight. With honor, with humility, with genuine interest. We were never called to be the savior, but to honor the savior by loving those who are most often overlooked.
Here is a revised list that I compiled last year of some things that I have learned over the years about homeless outreach.
- Due to the lack of consistent dental hygiene, many people have sore or missing teeth. So, stick to softer foods that are easy to chew - bread, soft cereal bars, pudding, applesauce, bananas, soups, cheese sticks, even pizza. :) Avoid foods like apples. A lot of people cannot eat raw apples.
- Keep clean socks in your car. The health of your feet is of utmost importance when you spend your life walking from place to place. Limited access to showers or fresh socks can often lead to foot issues and pain.
- Chapstick, disposable toothbrushes, trial size deodorant, travel size packs of baby wipes and other small personal hygiene essentials are very helpful. And don't forget to supply the ladies during that "extra special' time of the month. Can you imagine dealing with all that on the streets?
- Some helpful items we may not think about are large, sturdy ziplock bags, a waterproof tarp, hats and gloves, rain poncho, and those rubber shoe cover things that protect shoes from water.
- Touch them. Living on the fringe of society often means these people are overlooked. If you are invisible, you are probably not being affectionately cared for. So look into people's eyes, say good morning, ask how they feel, ask if there is anyone you can call for them. Give them a hug, touch their shoulder, hold their hand. Ask what their name is. Ask if they'd like to tell you how they ended up on the street. Ask if they need to go to the hospital. Ask if they are in touch with anyone for services/supports. If you can, sit and eat a meal with them. Treat them like an equal, with value and a little dignity.
- Expect to see a lot of mental illness. Contrary to what most people believe, a large majority of homeless people are in that position because of mental health problems. Expect a lot of confusion. Just be compassionate, and let them swear a little because they think you want to steal their cat. (They don't have a cat.) Just tell them you love them and get then get the crap outta there.
- Remember that it could be you. I try to remember that with each lost soul I see, that I am not better. I am just as capable of losing my mind. I am just as capable of losing everyone I love in some freak tragedy. I am just as capable of making a terrible choice that leads me down a path of destruction. I am not better. You are not better. We all need Jesus. So don't judge, don't make assumptions, just help without hurting and be grateful for your teeth.