Every day at BSM introduces a whole new aspect of the organization to me. Which is awesome, but pretty intimidating to blog about after I let 3 days get away from me. But it’s also a good sign that I haven’t had time to blog for the past three days; it means I’m busy doing more pressing things and haven’t had a moment to sit and reflect. Anyway, today was reasonably easy and I was only there from 9:30 to 3. So, I’ve had a bit of relaxation throughout the afternoon, and now am relaxing even more at a friend’s house and boring her to death as I attempt to backtrack and reflect on everything that’s happened. I think it’s best to attack this day by day…
Tuesday: 10 AM-4 PM
Brittany showed me how the mail service works, so that I will be able to run it by myself next Monday. The best thing about the mail service, to me, is of course the face-to-face interaction with clients who use it. This was the first real interaction I’ve had with multiple homeless men and women through BSM, beyond dinner conversations during No Barriers Dinners and the like. Brief description of the mail service: it’s a program for people who do not have a viable address at which they can receive mail. BSM hosts over 300 people through the mail service. But one woman in particular struck me. I wrote something about it on the train ride home, really quickly, in order to not forget the details.
“They stole my medicine… they attacked me and stole my medicine. They will never fix this, the way they are doing things… they always attack me…” I hear her words before I even see her. Her voice is smooth and calm, yet disconnected. She enters the room with the same disconnected look in her eyes, wrapped in layer upon layer of leggings, scarfs, skirts, shirts, jacket, and hat. Her arms cradle a worn paper bag. “They stole my long underwear… it is too cold to walk to get any… I don’t have the money. It is too far, and they will attack me… I don’t look bad and I don’t do anything bad… but they attack me. In Athens, my husband’s property… it was in my name. But they took it and they took my long underwear. I’m here for my mail, do I have any mail?” Brittany greets her and looks for her mail. There is none today. I close my laptop and listen. “The same people who ruined my career, lost my money, they stole my medicine and ruined my long underwear. They attack me.” She stands in front of the desk as a man walks into the room behind her. He recognizes her and sits down, waiting for her to turn and leave. She doesn’t. She continues to speak in circles, pleading and gesticulating gently, and I stare at the wall in front of me. Brittany knows better than to interrupt. She continues for a few more slow, uncomfortable minutes, until she slowly backs out of the office, speaking in the same even, empty voice. As she turns out of the room, the man quietly picks up his mail and follows her to the door. He exits, and she stands in the doorway, out of sight, lost in her story.
It might seem like this encounter stuck with me just because of how strange and uncomfortable it was. But the one thing that got to me, more than anything else, was when she mentioned a “career.” Wow, she hasn’t always been this woman. Wow, this personality is a condition, a situation, an experience. Yet it has permeated her soul and affected her entire life. It blows my mind how things change for people. I’ve met people who’ve been homeless for years, for weeks, and even for only three days. And each story, however fragmented, broken, or false, is a testimony to humanity’s unfailing impermanence and the unjust nature of every day life. You know, that whole “life isn’t fair,” deal we all have to accept at one point or another.
Wednesday: 7 AM-9 PM
Wednesday was madness. I, of course, as the new intern, had a ball. But most of the staff were quite stressed out. Which is understandable! For some reason, around 5 events were planned for Wednesday night. The schedule we were handed at the staff meeting, which covered the late afternoon to end-of-the-night activities, was a page and a half long. A quick definition of the main event: No Barriers Dinner. NBD is a once-monthly community dinner, set up in the sanctuary, in which all are invited to participate in a dinner that is designed to break down barriers and build bridges between peoples who wouldn’t normally have the chance to connect. It rocks. You get to feel completely confident to sit down at a table filled with strangers, cause everyone else is doing it too, and jump into a conversation about anything and everything. But before I get to that, let’s start at 7 AM.
I came in so early to assist with the extended hours of 315 Cafe, which is BSM’s overnight homeless shelter. Not actually designated as a homeless shelter, the Cafe is designed to give people who are not able to find places in actual homeless shelters a place to stay. During a Code Blue (concerning weather and temperature), which it was on Tuesday night, around 75 people are allowed to stay at BSM. This was another amazing spot for me, as it offers the chance for a lot of connection with people. Because the people living at the cafe are allowed to stay until noon during the extended hours, many are more than willing to get involved in long conversations, art projects, or are just content to continue to sleep or watch a movie. I met a really sweet man and we talked for a pretty long time about a variety of random subjects. Wrestling, lacrosse, horseback riding, motorcross, where we live and where we grew up, stories from high school, pitbulls. This was my first chance to make a real connection, and it is so awesome now to see him at other events and be able to greet him by name, pull up a chair and feel like I am really a part of the community now that I know more people than just the staff.
The afternoon was filled with a lunch with Liam (which was great, he always has really good insight and is an intimidating conversationalist), a long and dull staff meeting (which was fine because what else are staff meetings supposed to be?), and hurried work to finish setting up for the NBD and volunteer fair and movie showing and choir practice and whatever else. During NBD, I sat at a table which initially felt really awkward and quiet. No one was interested in participating in a conversation, and I felt really intimidated and only tried, weakly, once or twice to engage them. But as the meal continued a few more people joined the table and all of a sudden I was thrust into this amazing conversation with two of the men at the table. Both residents of the cafe, they were open about their stories, how they got to where they are today, and their entire lives basically. The connection we felt was huge, on my part and theirs. This is the magic of NBD. We went down to the volunteer fair separately, but wound up together again and quickly heavy into another conversation. I realized something really important about myself through all of this: I fancy myself a “people person,” but it was hard for me to put myself out there. I am so used to people being inquisitive towards me that it was hard for me to start the conversation in an effective way. What a cool thing to notice. While it’s exemplary of my own egoist ways, it also rocks, because it gives me something to work on personally for the next week which will help me to become a better person in general.
Thursday: 9:30 AM-3 PM
Today was Breaking Bread. Breaking Bread is a lot like NBD, except it extends beyond a meal and is much more oriented towards people who are either homeless or in need of clothing, personal supplies, or simply human interaction. I worked in the third floor balcony, directing and helping a bunch of other high school seniors in organizing the absolute chaos that has resulted from the donations BSM has gathered over the years. These donations make up the clothing closet, which is a place for those who need clothing to come, browse, and take up to five items. It was hard for me at first to be working with high school kids, who are people I feel that I understand and am not often inspired by, while I knew that the people I had met yesterday and so many more were downstairs eating and interacting. But I got over it, since I knew how important it was to sort the donations. We worked there for about two hours, but then Jere, the personal care coordinator at BSM, asked me to help him within the Clothing Closet for the last hour of Breaking Bread, which was so awesome. It was a lot like being a personal shopper, in some weird world that would be run by thrift stores, and it was fun interacting with people in a way that it was really easy to make jokes about certain pieces of clothes and lighten up the mood. I saw the man I met at Wednesday’s extended hours again, which was awesome, and I met a bunch of other people. So all in all, my frustrations were answered.
A short reflection:
I love this internship. What I’ve been doing is what I want to do with my life. I could write about this forever and not even get to the really important stuff (obviously). Conversation is a really significant thing. Breaking down the barriers that are complete constructs of our culture is actually enlightening. And to circle back to the idea of hope I touched on last time: so many of the people I’ve met have pointed towards scripture or a member of the staff as the light at the end of their tunnel. They’ve spoken about how they’ve just held a staff member’s hand or gaze as they talked through an issue, and it helped them to turn their lives around. It is all just another example of how empowering support, hope, and another’s love (spiritual or interpersonal) can be, and I can see how, for so many people, faith can be a powerful foundation for this love.
PS- sorry for how long this is! Usually I would try to condense it in some way, but it is almost midnight and I plan to be on the road to be in Philadelphia by 5:50 AM tomorrow morning. So sleep is my most pressing desire. And expect pictures of: the church, funny staff members, an adorable baby, and some really amazing people sometime in the near-to-far future!