Monthly Archives: March 2014

the rebuilding

beginning the week by showing up late to work on monday isn’t my idea of getting off to a good start, but that’s what happened this morning. i hate the feeling of rushing around the house in a sleepy daze trying to get organized, forcing down a bowl of dry cereal because i didn’t put enough milk in it, only putting deodorant under one armpit, tripping over everything and anything as my eyes get adjusted to reality.

today i’m working down in the hood, not at my group home. here, i mostly sit behind a desk in an office that faces the street corner where many familiar faces from the street pass by at least once, sometimes many times per day. right in front of me is a large window and through it i can see a graffitied building with slogans like ‘don’t stop’ and ‘bring the funk’.

‘bring the funk’ is motivating today when my energy level is feeling rather low.

the rebuilding offers permanent residence to men who have been living at one of the men’s homeless shelters in the city. many of the men who live here now are long-time residents of shelters and street life. this housing-first approach gives them an opportunity to focus on other important things (health, addiction, family, employment. etc), knowing they have a safe, comfortable space to go home to.

i wish there were more of these buildings in the city. more men and women need this opportunity.

on my desk sits two computer screens. one has 20 different screens relaying all the security camera feeds so we can make sure things are safe. the other computer is for paper work and for surfing the internet during the quiet times in the day.

one client is doing laundry today and i can see him pacing around the common room waiting for his loads to finish. this particular client thinks he’s God and that he runs the rebuilding. i don’t bother to correct him when we talk and even pretend to take his authoritative commands when he gives them to me. he calls me one of his best employees.

a lot of the men living here deal with some of the more severe mental health issues, not to mention physical health troubles. schizophrenia, bipolar, hoarding, hep c, hiv.

mental illness and addictions are typically part and parcel with the street life.

another client stops into talk with me. he’s been up since early this morning collecting bottles and cans. him and i know one another from my days dropping into the men’s shelter to hang out. he’s a little boy in a man’s body. understands how the world works well enough but because of his learning disability he has been stunted in his maturity. he has trouble looking after himself, eg. his health, personal grooming, what to eat, what not to eat, etc. he complains to me about his neighbor playing his music too loud at night but offers that he really enjoys his taste in music so he doesn’t want to tell him to turn it down.

i have to laugh. fortunately he thinks it’s funny too and laughs with me.

it’s raining pretty hard outside but that doesn’t stop guys from going out for the occasional smoke or expedition to find something a bit harder than nicotine. they wave at me through the window and head off on their way, sometimes with a bright smile on their face, other times with a sullen, sunken, expressionless look that says to me, ‘i don’t want to do this anymore..’

what do you do when you see someone in slavery? but instead of a slave owner or pimp, the master is a drug, an addiction, an unquenchable desire and lust for something that kills, enslaves, destroys.

it’s quiet here now and my shift is about to end. some of the kids i coached at the local high school are passing by my office window on their way home from school. many of the kids i coached live here in the hood. my prayer for them as they pass by is that they won’t end up like these men at the rebuilding – broken, forgotten, enslaved – but i know that some of them probably will. some will fall through the cracks at some point and wind up on the streets or in jail or, heaven forbid, worse.

i notice from the corner of my eye a string of words amongst the graffiti on the wall across from our building.

‘there is hope’.

as bad as things seem, it’s true, there is hope.

 

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crying shame

leonard moves slow.

really slow.

leonard moves quite a bit slower than most other guys on the streets. it’s not his fault that he was born with a bum leg and arm, both on his right side. heck if he’d let it limit him, though.  he can still be found biking around the city on one of his makeshift bikes or pushing around a heavy cart-load of bottles and cans.  i’ve tried to help him push one before.  they aren’t light.

he does what he’s going to do, even if it takes him longer than most to accomplish.

i admire that in him.  he’s a determined man.

so yesterday, when i walked into st andrews for street soccer, there’s leonard, sitting in the middle of the gym eating dinner. all by himself. every other table and chair put away. every other dinner guest gone. all around him my players passing the ball around, being careful not to hit him as he eats.

we don’t rush him, even though he is holding us up from playing. i make sure of that, no matter how impatient my players get. leonard has a soft spot in my heart and he gets as much time as he likes. i’m told you shouldn’t have favorites in life, but you can’t stop what the heart sets out to do.

leonard is one of my favorites.

“how are you, my friend?” i ask him.

his head turns revealing a giant smile that only leonard can wear.

“i’m good! just packing up to go home for the night.”

“no rush. take your time,” i tell him.

he offers up another giant smile and continues packing his leftovers into his backpack.

one of our more brief talks but one that lifts my spirits a bit (and i wasn’t feeling low).

i see another one of my first nations friends, patrick, slowly making to the front door. i haven’t seen or talked with him in a while.

“how are you doing, my friend? it’s been a while, eh?” i say to him, extending my arm for our customary secret handshake that he taught me.

he embraces my arm but his usual grip isn’t there.

“not too good,” he answers in his relatively thick migma accent, his face sullen. “two good friends have been murdered this month… and on top of that, i just found out my cousin is being taken off life support. i’ve had better months, you could say.”

not the conversation starter i was expecting, especially not right before i begin leading street soccer for the night, but these conversations  are hardly ever anticipated.

i motion over ryan, the player we sent down to mexico city to represent canada, and tell him to lead the team through warm up. ryan loves coaching so he accepts with great enthusiasm.

patrick and i stand off to the side and talk about his past month. his glassy eyes speak to his broken heart. his story confirms what i see. he’s sober enough to speak clearly and (hopefully) remember this talk so i can follow-up with him some time.

he tells me he missed the memorials of his friends because he couldn’t stay sober long enough. he feels bad about it and tells me as much. i place my hand on his shoulder and reassure him that his friends knew his heart and how he felt. he nods and sniffles a bit.

my heart breaks for him and i just want to sit and cry alongside. i can feel his pain and it doesn’t feel good. it feels awful, it’s gut-wrenching. his tears make my eyes want to cry in unison.

i don’t though.

i tell myself, this isn’t the time. i come up with enough excuses to placate my rational mind and push those compassionate emotions back inside. street soccer is just starting and i have to get back to it, i tell myself. these players look up to me as their coach and leader. they can’t see me like that.

reflecting back, i missed it.  i missed an opportunity to truly live authentically with another hurting person. i missed a chance to show true compassion and enter into someone else’s grief and be a support that they needed.

and why?

because i didn’t want others to see me cry?

because tears aren’t ‘manly’ or ‘strong’ or whatever other lies my culture has force-fed me over the years?

i’ve always liked and resonated with this quote by charles dickens:

“heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. i was better after i had cried, than before–more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.”

it’s too bad the shame can get the best of me at times, because the rest of what dickens said holds so true in my experience.  i’m more repentant, more thankful, more gentle, more alive when i allow myself, in those moment of grief and suffering, to cry.  more human, even.  in those moments it strips away all that doesn’t matter and reveals all that does.

may we all learn to cry together without feeling ashamed.

hunghead

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