There but for the grace…
I was homeless by choice. Divorce and separation from my family set me into a state of unclear thinking. I walked away from my priorities, and from my family with almost no money. My Ford Windstar became my home. I parked it at the outskirts of town most nights, and parked it by the beach on nights when there were a few extra cents in my ash tray for gas. My future was uncertain, my mind clouded, and I faced each day cloaked in regret.
I never doubted that I would have a home again; an apartment, a room to rent – something. I sensed though, that I would never be a homeowner again. This was in part due to the circumstance, and in part because I never bought into the dream. From an early age, home ownership seemed more a ball and chain than an American right.
Living in a minivan though, that was not in the dream either. For six months though, it was my reality.
My income came partly from work, partly from savings, and partly from what help my mother could give me from week to week during this difficult time. In my homelessness, there was at least some security if not prosperity. I had enough income for essentials, and a few dollars left most weeks to share. Maybe it was because I was homeless myself that I felt this need to share. I have always felt a connection to the have-nots, and especially to the have-nothings.
On Friday or Saturday evenings, I would drive to parking lot at the Ocean Beach pier where many homeless of varying ages, and backgrounds would congregate. If I had just few extra dollars, I would buy a few loaves of bread, and a couple jars of peanut butter. From the back of my minivan I would offer sandwiches to anyone who would accept one – no documentation of homelessness required.
If I had a little more money, I would buy a couple of large pizzas and put them on the hood of my van – a free slice for any takers. Doing this always made me feel good. In that sense, I guess it was a selfish act. I knew inside though, that there were stories behind the faces of those who gladly accepted my offerings. I never felt like I needed to know those stories, but just knowing they existed was enough fuel my gestures.
I recall a disproportionately high number of homeless teens at the OB pier. Fifteen and 16-year old runaways were not uncommon. Those were the stories which guided me back each week. I would hear tales of abusive stepfathers, overbearing mothers, and addictions. I wasn’t so naïve as to believe all these stories were true. Nor was I so hardened by life, that I discounted them.
At the end of the evenings, when all the food was gone, as the stories fizzled, and the kids filtered out to feed their addictions in abandoned buildings and dumpster bins, I would park my van in a safe place. I would then lay down in back, count my blessings, and sip from a cup of rum to help me forget my non-blessings.
Before long though, I was back to living a normal life. I was living in an 1,800 square foot, 3-bedroom, home with a TV in every room – even the kitchen. I was driving a Jeep, and collecting surfboards like they sports cards. My days of homelessness were well behind me, yet I missed the simplicity of them more and more as my life expanded.
One morning, as I was transcending from one room into the others, in preparation for my impending day, and with ESPN going in all three rooms, I realized how ridiculous it all was – to me anyway. Thirty minutes later I set all 4 of my televisions on the front sidewalk with a sign reading, “Please, take them away from me”. An hour later they were gone.
Maybe a year later I gave away the Jeep in favor of a bike. Not long after, I gave away my furniture and moved into a little guest house, furnished with just enough. It was a far cry from living in a minivan, but the romance of minimal living was my increasing reality. As my list of possessions grew smaller, my list of freedoms grew larger…
Actions speak louder than blogs…
As I have reflected more recently on the short-term homeless state of my middle life, I want to do one simple thing that can make a difference for the long-term homeless, and I want to do it regularly. What kind of thing, what kind of action…? I don’t know. I will simply take it from week to week.
I’m a pedestrian living in a warm climate, and in a small town. I cross the paths of homeless people multiple times every day of my life – even children.
This I commit to, with my social media audience as my overseers:
Through 2013, and hopefully far beyond, I commit to seek out and apply one simple action each week that will positively touch or impact the life a homeless person. To keep me honest, I will document these actions every Friday on my Contemplative Fitness Facebook page. Please stay tuned and see if I walk the walk. Be well. rc
Please check back in two weeks to see what happens when I push the “stop” button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there is this from Jonathan Meiburg of Shearwater. Enjoy…