Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Thanksgiving Reflections

I spent several hours in the library today, as I often do. But this time, more than most, the plight of the homeless or less advantaged was on my mind, due to the abhorrent January weather we are supposed to get tomorrow. High of 18 here, and with windchill and 35mph winds, -5. Worse in northern Maine and even a few degrees less an hour west of here, where a friend of mine is living in an apartment that doesn't have heat. He moved into this place in September and I guess no one checked to see if the heat was working. He said it's been a month since they figured it out, and the landlord keeps saying they need a new part and "It should come in this week" but never does. I am so concerned for him, being in an apartment that is per his estimation around 45 degrees, WITH outdoor temps above freezing, which tomorrow will not be.

But after several phone calls, there is nothing I can do.
At the library, I saw a woman I know who I often see there. She has a radiant, beautiful personality and is intellectually disabled and lives in a group home. I saw her go up to the librarian and say "I have nowhere to sleep tonight. Do you know where I can sleep?" Shocked, I went up to her and tried to figure out what was going on. She said, "The staff at my house have the night off, and no one's allowed to be there alone. Everyone else has family to go to, and I'm the only who doesn't. I don't want to sleep in the street and I won't go to the homeless shelter. Do you think the hospital would let me stay there?"

I tried to gently persuade her that it must have been a miscommunication, and they must either have relief staff or are permitting her to stay by herself, but she just kept saying it was house rules and they deserved a day off. I tried to offer to call some local people who I thought might be okay with an overnight guest, but when the security guard came up and gave her a bookmark with resources such as homeless shelters that I knew wouldn't help, with only 15 minutes until the library closed, she decided to go with him instead of accept my help. So there was nothing I could do. The librarian, one I haven't seen much, seemed touched by efforts, and said "Thank you for caring," as we comismerated on how difficult the situation was.

While I was reading the newspaper, a guy I'd met on Monday over a random and passionate discussion of Alaska came up to me to say hi. He was warm in personality and enthusiastic. He wanted to update me on when a rally for the homeless he's organizing will be next week, and ask for my permission to call me to let me know. I said sure. He then told me about all the snow he had to shovel off his tent, where he's living because he is also homeless, last night. When I offered sympathy, he said "That's all right! It just makes the warm sleeping bag feel that much better when you get inside." That is a guy with a good attitude. I started to wish him a good Thanksgiving, realized my mistake, and told him "I know you're going to be cold tomorrow, but I hope you find a way to stay warm."

It changed my perspective on how we evaluate success in this holiday.
I have so many things I could be worrying about tonight, but somehow, after these three encounters, I was able to put it in perspective and say Screw it, that all might be true, but I have more than these people have and I need to be appreciative.
It's really hard to be appreciative unless you've had actual lived experience with an opposite experience or personally know someone who has.

So today, I tried to help others, and they helped me, without even trying to.
My Thanksgiving wish is that I find more opportunities to engage in meaningful interactions like these, that help me put my life in perspective.

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