Project: Christmas For The Homeless 2017

Sitting in my warm home, gazing at the tree adorned with ornaments of Christmas’s past, I am sipping hot tea and watching Balboa, with all the comforts I can want or need. But their faces begin to haunt my mind; one in particular, Miss Mary.

 A simple mission to bring joy to those who know not what I know, whose pain I do not know, has left me with a broken heart and visions I can never again fail to see. We drive block to block seeking those whose addresses have no number nor street assigned. We don’t have to go far to see them for they are on every corner. They are the nameless, the forgotten people, the ones whose stories few care to know. They see us emerge from our car with gifts to give. They come from near and far to receive but a trinket, a mere token, most would say. But for them, these simple gifts of socks, gloves, toys, perfume, books, and blankets, mean that at least for tonight, this Christmas Eve, they were remembered. It is with joy and laughter, tears and hugs of gratitude, that we meet. I see their faces, feel their hopelessness, and surely grieve their losses. How can I have so much yet leave this place and feel that what I have is less than enough? How can so many drive past them without a thought of who they are or how their situation came to be? I want to sit and chat a while with each one.

 I long to know their names and their stories, to hear of the dreams they once had. These bums who got addicted, grew lazy, and now wait for handouts; is this not how we see the homeless? Perhaps this is the lie we tell ourselves, the one that separates us from them; the justification that their problems are not ours. We rationalize their circumstance by saying “they did this to themselves,” or they “should have,” and “if only they would have.” We create a tale of their truth without as much as a glance into their eyes. I wonder how many who believe this lie give pause to really process all these people do not have; a dresser for their clothes, a bathroom to relieve themselves, a sink to brush their teeth, a bathrobe or slippers to give them warmth on cold wintery evenings, not even a hot cup of tea. These are such simple things for most, but for them, they are items of the royal.

Our comforts are immense, our gratitude is fleeting, and the thought of sharing is forever far from our hearts. The dollar we refuse to offer, the coffee we deem too much to share, the extra value meal too excessive for the forgotten, or the ugly sweater that hangs in our closet with tags for a year, it’s too much to offer. True these things may not change the faces on the streets, but I wonder, could they? To offer them costs which to you is so little, but for them they are gifts that offer another day of life. Who cares for the forgotten, who sees them, who thinks to give them a nugget of love or dignity? Judging them and ignoring them is so easy to do while wearing parkas and boots and sipping our Starbucks lattes. We step around them to go enjoy our $200 steak dinner, but the thought comes to our mind, “Do I have a dollar to give?” Surely, we do, but they will only buy drugs or booze or utter “that it is not enough”, and so we pretend that they are not there. We convince ourselves they are not worthy of our dollar, ignoring the voices beckoning us to give, to share. How odd it is we will punish our children for not sharing their toys, yet we are too busy, too self-involved, too greedy, and too judgmental to share one single dollar, with some stranger whose life’s possessions lay on the ground near them. 

 

On this night of giving gifts to the homeless, five memories stay with me. They are not unique or uncommon, but they are mine. For one moment, I would like to make them yours too. 

 

He stood there, swaying side to side, all alone at the edge of tent city. He looked around 50 years; his eyes were void and his body frail. I was sure that drugs were easing his pain, yet I was drawn to him. Ignoring the cries of my family telling me, “No, he looks crazy”, I grabbed a yoga mat and blanket and went to his side. I put my arm around him and placed the gifts in his arms. We spoke not one word, but our eyes locked, and for that moment, he was alive. It was like looking into the eyes of an animal and seeing their spirit. I tightened my grip around him and wished him a Merry Christmas before walking back to our car. Tears flooding my eyes, I watched him for a moment. He scanned the packages as if they were an illusion, then glanced back in our direction with a bit of a smile. I see his face now; how it was weathered and worn. There in his eyes, I saw the tenderness of his soul. Later that night we traveled back to find him again, but he was gone along with his gifts. Perhaps he found a bit of comfort there on the streets with his yoga mat and blanket. It is my hope that he will not be robbed or hurt by another wishing his new comforts for himself. I only wish I knew his name! 

 

A man of 6’3”, bundled in a black coat approached the car. He was a big guy in his mid-50’s I would guess. For most, he would seem scary. His eyes absent of the evidence of narcotics, his speech soft and kind. I offered him a gift bag which he gratefully accepted. I asked if he had children that we could give gifts to as well. He replied, “I have 4 beautiful granddaughters.” I gave him 4 little girl bags. Tears filled his eyes as he took them from my hands. He told me how happy this would make them and how thankful he was for us making Christmas possible for them. We hugged as he encouraged others to come and collect a gift. It was clear that he was a person whose gentle voice could cause others to follow. I wanted to know his story. How did this become his reality? I wanted to know of his granddaughters, for they are generation three. Why did the pendulum swing this way for his family? He was not a drunken bum, but a seemingly kind strong and generous grandpa, cold and without a home to go and sit with his grandchildren on his knee. I wish I knew his name.

 

There she sat on a bus stop bench, wrapped like a mummy in a coat and blankets, with her worldly possessions at her feet, seemingly asleep. She looked to be in her 20’s and was completely alone at the stop. I wondered if she was dreaming for a bus that would come and recuse her from this cold lonely spot. I suspect that is not the case, but rather her thoughts were void of dreams, void of hope, void of anything beyond this moment. I called to my son to care for her himself. He said, “Mom, she is sleeping” I said, “No son, go anyway.” He stepped away from the car, gift in hand, and as he had been taught, announced quietly that he was only there to leave her a gift. Her eyes opened, her body clearly startled. My son spoke to her repeating "I have a Christmas gift I would like to leave for you.” A huge smile came to her face as she accepted the gift. She looked into his eyes and thanked him with immense sincerity and then stated, “I didn’t expect to have a gift this year, thank you!” We shouted Merry Christmas from the car. She looked to us and blew a kiss. In that moment, there was life in this young woman’s eyes; they spoke the message of thankfulness. She would be the one my son remembered on this night. Again, my vision was clouded by tears. I wish I knew her name! 

 

At a stop light, I glanced to the car beside us. I saw two women in their early 20’s and in front, a young boy and girl perhaps 4 and 6 on either side of an infant carrier. I rolled down the window and asked if it would be okay to offer the children a Christmas gift? She did not hesitate in her response of, “Yes, please, and thank you.” I stood at window handing gifts to the children. The light turned green but neither of us moved for this moment was too important to comply with the change. The children smiled as if I were Santa himself. They were more excited than I could have imagined receiving the dollar store toys we offered. As I stepped back in my car, the women thanked us profusely. Then she, the driver, the mother of these children, lifted an infant of perhaps 2 months from her lap and asked if we had anything for her baby. I gasped for a moment as their lives flashed in front of me. These 4 children would likely never know the privileges, the experiences, the education, or the joy that my own know as normal. Their lives would likely be filled with hunger, despair, heartache, and greater challenges than I or you can ever imagine. They are children, innocent, without choice of their circumstance, forced to live in a life they would never have chosen. Will they too become forgotten people one day? Will they receive an angel that will spare and steer them from that life? Will they even grow into adults who choose a different path? I wish I knew their names! 

 

Huddled up in the door of My Sisters Place Shelter, lay 2 women of their apparent 60’s. The air was filled with a cold mist now. It would surely rain soon. We all stepped from the car and walked to them to offer gifts and chat for a bit. The two women had coats and dirty tattered blankets covering their bodies. To protect them from the rain, they had black trash bags, likely taken from a city can. We asked if we could offer them small Christmas gifts. Miss Mary, lifted her head from the street and rolled to her side. She cheered our arrival, full of glee, speaking words like, “Thank God for you all! You don’t know what you have done! I owe you! Bless you.” Imagine, someone of her circumstance, saying to me, “I owe you!” I watched as she opened her gift. I had selected 4 tiny plastic color changing, Christmas trees, only 4 inches tall. My family laughed at me and said those are silly, but I didn’t care because, in my mind, someone would not know and may never have known, the joy of gazing at a Christmas Tree on Christmas Eve. It’s one of my favorite things of the season, so I bought them. Miss Mary happened to be a recipient of one of those little trees. When she looked at it her expression came to life as if it had magically powers to offer joy to all who could see. When I turned it on, she giggled like a little girl, marveling at her beautiful little plastic Christmas tree in the palm of her hand. Miss Mary was ill. Her cough was so bad she could not speak 2 words in-between. As she coughed and coughed, she continued to smile, ignoring the clear pain lingering in her chest. I remembered I had a bag of Halls cough drops in my car, so I ran to retrieve them and gave them to her. Miss Mary’s reaction would have made you think I gave her diamonds. Was this all I could do, all I could give to beautiful Miss Mary? The guilt of doing so little continues to engulf my heart. I worry that her days are numbered, that her end is near. Yet this woman, with nothing to offer but her heart, gave it to us freely with good cheer. I wish to find beautiful Miss Mary and sit and talk with her a while. I am so thankful I know her name.

 

Homelessness is everywhere. Homelessness is a condition, a condition of real people, with real faces, hearts and names. For some, this life chose them, for others they chose it. Regardless of the how, regardless of the why, regardless of the condition; they are people and their lives matter. They are someone’s daughter, mother, sister, aunt or cousin. They are someone’s father, brother, grandfather, or uncle. Your gift, time, or attention will not save them from their circumstance or change the causes of their why, but it will grant them a moment of dignity, a moment of feeling loved, a moment of being human! Is this not something all who are born should know?  Do not judge them as you walk by, but rather give thanks for all you have, then offer a token, a gift, or a smile. You never know when a 4” plastic light up tree may be the reason Miss Mary offers to you something more priceless in return, the gift of her heart. 

The Project Questions!

The Survey: 10 Real Questions

In considering the survey questions I had a few key objectives. I wanted to go below the surface of traditional Name, State, Work…. chit chat. I wanted to ensure the interview questions would open the dialogue for additional questions. It was important to me that both my interviewee and I were forced to genuinely consider what was being said. Lastly, to effect change through communication, your reader must be challenged to deepen their own thoughts, therefore my ultimate goal is to emotionally connect my readers. 

At the end of this project, I believe we will all come to the same conclusion;  regardless of race, sex, religion, age, or financial status most of us look alike when approached from the inside, out. 

The Questions

  • What is love? 
  • Where are you from?
  • Are you married?
  • Do you have children?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • What do you most regret?
  • What is your #1 bucket list item?
  • If you could re-live just one day, positive or negative, what would it be and why? 
  • What bothers you most about the human race?
  • Do you know God? 

What I found is that most people have stocked answers for the standard questions asked during new introductions. Where are you from? What do you do? Are you married? Do you have kids? Once these have been answered often the depth of the conversation is over. Ask someone about love, regret, hopes, and dreams, or God and you will very quickly discover that at the end of the conversation, the person you just met will feel a lot more like a friend than a stranger. 

*Where you see blue comments in parenthesis, these are my inner private thoughts while conducting the interview. 

 

CHANGE ME 365 - INTRO

The Project

They think they know me; they don’t even see me. They look at me, yet don’t see me. They talk with me, yet don’t hear my voice. They laugh and cry with me, but do not know my soul. If you ask them, “Do you know her?”, they will say, “Yes!, We are friends.” If you ask me, I will tell you, “They think they know me but they have never seen me.” 

How many times a day do you send an email, ring someone on the phone, meet a partner at the gym, or sit next to a colleague in the office and wonder, who is this person really? My guess is almost never. If I were to ask you, “How many friends do you have?”  What might your answer be? If I were a betting person, thankfully I am not, I would bet your answer would include a lot fewer people if I asked you to only select those who met the minimum qualifications of a friend, based on the actual definition.  

We are all guilty of being the “fair-weathered friend” to many but the “true friend” too few. Why is this? Why do we qualify who is worthy of our genuine regard, more importantly, how do we qualify who will receive the best of us? I have a theory but it is so simple in context it's almost shameful to call a theory. Wait for it…here is my well thought out, well researched, intricately developed, theory,

Fear…we fear that which is unfamiliar to us be it people, places, or things. Fear is what determines how much of us we will share with another human being. 

My ultimate purpose of Change me 365 is to explore the answer to the question “Is fear at the heart of hate?”   

Have you ever considered that the 3 most universally powerful words consist of only 4 letters?  Love, Fear, Hate….these are the words that drive our every decision, thought, feeling, step forward or step backward. In the countless array of world languages, imagine just how many beautiful words exist to impart poetic feelings of adoration or immense disdain for our neighbor.  They are all mere adjectives to describe the action of Love, Fear, or Hate. Yet, these 3, 4-lettered words require no oral speech to communicate and are without a doubt 100% universally understandable, regardless of cultural or language barriers. Sadly, they are also the words we most abuse. We say, “I love it,” “I hate it,” “I’m afraid of it,” with a casualness that refers to something as insignificant as the items on a menu or a place or an activity. We offer a passive, nonchalant “I love you,” to a complete stranger because they got our Starbucks Cafe right or let us cut in line at the supermarket.  What of the person who startled us as we walked into the room; to them we say “I hate you,” or for those who encroach on our hearts, we may reserve the sentiment, “You scare me.” Human beings give more thought into what outfit they will wear on vacation than to whom they will offer the 3 most powerful words in the universe. Just consider that for a moment; are not love, fear, and hate the precise emotions that guide our behavior? Yet in the same thought we will withhold saying “I love you” to those closest to us, like our mom or brother or best friend; telling ourselves “Oh they know, I don’t need to say it.” Why are human beings completely unintentional when it comes to love, fear, and hate? We fear that which is different or unknown. We hate that which is different or unknown.  We claim to be loving yet will withhold eye contact or a warm smile or heaven forbid say, “good morning" to a passerby. 

I find it intriguing that the word fear is nestled between love and hate. Humans are ultra quick to fear and even quicker to afford themselves the emotion of hate. Interestingly enough, both of the latter require tremendous energy to sustain. Given we are creatures whose tendency is to opt for the path of least resistance, would it not then stand to reason that love would be the first thing we give away simply because it's easier? It requires little to no energy to be kind. Love, sadly, is the last thing we give and the first thing we take away in our human interpersonal relationships.  How many people have you seen use love as a tool to maneuver people? When was the last time you yourself cared for a stranger’s soul? What I am referring to is of course not the romantic view of the word love, but an authentic regard for another human being; a kindness for another's soul that is given without expectation of a return on your investment. I believe that 2 things must happen for hate to flourish. The first occurs when we see love as something we choose to give. The second follows the first when we then turn our energy and focus to what we fear. It is our fear which fuels the propensity for hate. At the same time, I believe that in order for us to be creatures who are in fact loving, we must learn to truly "see" people. The only way to truly "see" someone is to come to know what lives in their soul. This can never happen if we never take the time to have a deep meaningful conversation? I adhere to the truth that understanding is key acceptance and compassion. We can not possibly understand one another if we do not care enough to see one another.  What if we all taught our children that love is really human kindness that is given without fear or expectation. Perhaps it is not fear that is at the heart of hate, but a convoluted definition of love. 

I have another theory; this one slightly more complex, yet elementary in concept. 

“The world we currently find ourselves living in is emotionally and relationally bankrupt because we do not conscientiously or scrupulously give prudent thought to how we allow these 3, 4-lettered words, to define who we are or how we treat others.”  

I will further expand on this theory to include what I believe to be the single most powerful word that exists.  A mere 3 letter word that 100% dictates how we define the application of those other 4- lettered words. It is a word that, dependent on the application of it, will elicit love, fear, or hate to or for your neighbor. It is a word that people across the globe understand, accept, reject, use, abuse, hide behind, and ultimately live for. The word is GOD! God has countless names, shapes, and forms. But one thing is certain, humanity does not exist without God. Before you jump to the wrong conclusion, hear me out!   For some, God is called by another name; Science, Creator, Mother Nature, King, Light, Abba, Jehovah, Yahweh, Lord, El-Shaddai, Elohim, Brahman, Buddha, Allah, etc. Regardless of how God is called upon or described, a single universal truth is that we all believe something, other than man, is responsible for our coming into existence and we all define our truths based on that belief.  Too, those beliefs define our application of Love, Fear, and Hate. At the root of all things is a Creator. Our understanding of what that Creator demands of us, combined with our willingness to submit to those demands, is what shapes and molds the reflection of our soul we allow others see.  Our application of the word GOD determines our own unique humanity.  Absolutely every intention, especially those of love, fear, and hate, can be linked to directly to one's attachment to religion. Religion, as defined by dictionary.com is:

Religion: a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

I hear people say, “I am more spiritual than religious.” I myself have said it. What the hell does that mean anyway? It’s like saying the water is kind of cold. It’s either cold or it isn’t. The tea isn't a little sweet, it either sweet or it is not. People are not a little loving and kind, you either are or you aren’t! 

Spirit is defined as a supernatural, incorporeal being, especially one inhabiting a place, object, etc., or having a particular character. 

Spiritual is defined as a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

To extinguish all ambiguity, religious and spiritual are completely interchangeable schools of thought.  So now that we have cleared that confusion, let us call a spade a spade; at the end of the day, believer and non-believer alike can all be lumped into the religious bucket. We all believe in something, that can’t fully be explained, and/or leaves us with a single baffling, unanswerable question..…HOW?  “I don’t know the answer, but when I find out, I’ll let you know.” is inevitably the only clear response when asked this question, although it is generally accompanied by countless lofty educated examples that are intended to convince our audience of all the reasons our sense of assuredness, is the only “right” path to the ultimate truth.  

Just a moment, let’s assume that my sense of assuredness is in fact accurate. What would this mean for the human race?  What if it meant, that we were all created, from a single entity, that demands every human being created, live with the sole purpose of bringing joy to whom we were created for.  Would this not mean that we all have the same purpose for being? Is this a reasonable conclusion?  Have you ever considered why little children are so transparent or why they are so open to others? Imagine this for a moment. Is unconditional love not the first thing newborn children encounters? Have you ever heard a person or heard of a person say, "Oh Flipping Awesome, another damn baby in the world?" I hardly think so. Our response to a newborn is one of hope, softness, and immeasurable compassion. (yes I know there are exceptions to this rule, try to stay with me) Is love not the first thing a newborn child offers unto the world? It's in their gaze, their snuggle, in the way their hand reaches for and holds onto our finger. A newborn does not know distrust or fear or hate, all they know to give is love. This is why I subscribe to the belief that the author of the human race is in fact loving and intends for every life to be lived from a place of love.  Love is stolen from the innocent when we teach children to be afraid. It is in fear where hate can breathe its first breath.  We teach our children to hate in the reflection of our own behavior, whether we care to hear that ugly truth or not. 

Allow me to circle back around to the premise for my questions and ultimately for the purpose for my writing this book.  People watching is one of my most favorite things to do. While I am most often fascinated, amazed, humbled, inspired, and encouraged by human interaction, I am becoming increasingly outraged by the sheer enormity of pure hatred which seems to be more prevalent among people today.  Those to whom I seek wisdom, have taught me if you are not a part of the solution, you are in fact a part of the problem. I asked myself, what in the world, literally, can I do to affect change? What a daunting question that is!  Change? Can we really change? Is change what we need to seek? Perhaps all any of us really need to do is stop living in fear. After all, fear is the only thing that stands between the choice to love or the choice to hate. Fear is nothing more than an uncertainty of the unknown and is something that comes to reside in us based exclusively on own paradigms.  In considering all of the things that generate fear in people, I felt it best to look internally.  Human disappointment is at the very heart of what I most fear. My greatest fear, when speaking of things for which I have control over, is my personal success. In speaking of that which I can not control, my only fear is so great, I will not give life to it by penning it.  Throughout the course of my childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, I have experienced tremendous disappointments by way of deception, addiction, selfishness, and abandonment.  After years of suffering, I learned to survive life's inevitable heartaches in 2 ways; the 1st was to focus on the potential for problems in every situation.  If could foresee the potential problems, then I could cultivate a plan and head them off. My thought was, I would never be blindsided if I simply planned for the worst case scenario. I can assure you, this is not a plan you will find in a self-help book under the heading of "Best Practices!"  The second way was to detach from my own heart. I learned to flip the "love switch!" I became and master of emotional control. This didn't mean I no longer cared for others or failed to live a life of servitude. No, it meant that YOU nor ANOTHER, would ever "see" me. You may know my stories, but you would not know my soul. What I hadn't considered, is perhaps, I would no longer be acquainted with my soul.  I found myself being almost robotic in nature, life was merely a series of things I had to do with people I had to do them with. Living like this for so long did reduce the heartache but it also resulted in a life that was both exhaustive and exclusive of relationships that were truly relational. At some point, I guess I made a conscious decision to eliminate anyone that introduced dysfunction or discord into my life because one day I was simply done living the life I had come to accept for myself. You can imagine how few people must exist within my world now.  People are either in or out, there is simply no middle ground. In developing my master plan for my own life's peace, I failed to factor in a few key components, like running a business requires interaction with people or that we attract that which we focus our attention on. Most importantly, I lost sight that we are made to be relational.  Consequently, I spent so much of my energy, focused building my armored life, that inadvertently I ended up living a life that gave way to fear instead of love. Yet, I was made to love, to serve, to help, to show compassion, to overcome, to teach, to share. It dawned on me one day, perhaps the trials of my journey were not bad luck or detrimental, but blessings, emotional gifts, intended to prepare me to live with the purpose for which my life was intended.   How can any of us find joy in our lives when we chose to live counter to what we were made for? Thus the birth of Change Me 365. My objective is to meet 1 new random person everyday for 365 days, interview them using the same 10 questions, capture a portrait, and then write about the experience. I believe that the only way to snuff of the flames of fear is to stare them dead on and walk through them. By forcing myself to interact with strangers on a deeper more meaningful level, my feeling is the intrinsic beliefs I once held, that people really are all basically good, will once again be realized and perhaps I will no longer fear disappointment. My second goal is to share the human condition with others to demonstrate that we really aren't all that different. Regardless of age, sex, religion, ethnicity, or financial status we share the same worries, the same concerns, the same pains. What I know beyond all doubt to be true, is that at the end our lives, the only thing we have concern for is love, those we love, those we loved and lost, those we wish we had loved more, those we could have loved but didn't. Our only regret, in the end, is that we may not have loved as much as we could have.  Perhaps what we will together discover, is that all we need is a little less fear and a little more love to stop the hate from raging forth.