My Humanity Falls Piece By Piece

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Recently I was asked to write a testimonial for one of the soup kitchens I frequent and because today has been one of those tough days when I just keep rubbing up against the wrong people though I do my best to avoid them, I figured I’d post it here for easy access when I’m online seeking a distraction from the realities of the day.

Through a series of unfortunate events, I became homeless in the back half of 2012. No relatives or friends to use as a temporary support system, I hit the streets of Manhattan without a clue as to where to go, what to do, or what life held in store for me. I struggled for months to survive, spending what little pocket money I had on dollar pizzas, a slice of which I ate every other day in order to stretch out my dwindling funds.

Then one day while I was waiting in the cold for the public library to open, I met two women, sisters, who turned out were homeless like me. They were kind enough to take me to a few locations where I could get some food, which came at a most opportune time as I was down to my last dollar, and that’s no exaggeration. One of the first places they brought me to was a special soup kitchen that changed my entire experience.

Different from other soup kitchens (please understand that the words soup kitchen and ministry are interchangeable here, just as the homeless are referred to as guests), this particular ministry is a great place for guests to start the day. Both the in-house staff and volunteers who help prepare coffee and serve hot meals to the guests are both polite and friendly, which may seem like a given, but it is really a precious and special thing considering most of them make the effort to wake up that extra bit earlier and make themselves available to serve guests of varying temperament before going about their workaday worlds, when most of us find it hard enough just to simply get up and deal with the daily grind.

On my darkest days, when the world doesn’t make sense and I can’t quite seem to catch a glint of the light at the end of this expansive tunnel I’m traveling through, it’s a great comfort for me to have a place where I can be, even for a short while, where I can almost feel human again. That’s the thing people rarely consider when they think about or discuss homelessness. Not being considered a productive part of society, being ignored, avoided, shunned and ridiculed… it chips away at the soul. Bit by bit, by living on the streets, even the strongest person will start to lose confidence, humanity, and even sanity. In my experience, this ministry has helped me hold on to these vital bits of myself, while clinging on to hope as well.

I realize I probably should be pointing out specific instances but truth to tell there are so many, you’d be reading this testimonial for days. Suffice it to say, I have always been greeted with kindness and positive attitudes, even when my attitude was less than civil, and wound up meeting a lot of kind and caring people, some of whom I actually consider friends.

And not to sound unappreciative of other soup kitchens, but the several I have attended cannot hold a candle to this ministry. Compared to some of the larger soup kitchens, this one tiny building is filled with more people who make a concerted effort to help guests out with more than just the serving of a meal. People who place a great deal of importance into what they serve to guests, be it a meal, the Word, or just plain fellowship. I can’t imagine what my experience out here on the streets would be like after all this time without their existence and shamefully, I don’t think I have ever conveyed to them just how much I appreciate what they have done and continue to do for me.

Perhaps this will help them understand.

As I mentioned earlier, today has been one of those chip away days. It seems I’m surrounded by people with either anger or mental health issues and they’re all looking to pay that pain forward.

When you inhabit the same public spaces as other homeless people, a bizarre thing begins to happen. Even if you keep yourself to yourself, you will acquire enemies. You may not even know their names or faces. Grievances will be plucked from thin air and thrust upon you. You will be challenged daily. Yours must be the cooler head. The one gifted with enough foresight to see the consequences and choose the best course of action for your continued safety and freedom.

It is far from an easy thing to do.

At night, when you finally find a spot to rest, you replay the accounts of the day, wondering just how much of your humanity you’ve lost in each one of these abrasive encounters? How much of you will be left when there’s nothing left to give?

I can only pray tomorrow will be a slightly easier day.

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