It’s not surprising to me that I’ve gone six days without blogging again… I definitely regret not finding time sooner to post again, but I can’t complain about the reasons why. Most people could, probably, considering these reasons include days that start at 6:30 AM (AKA waking up at 4:30 AM). But not I! I think that I’ve thoroughly convinced Liam and others working at BSM that I’m a bit of a weirdo since I have been consistently arriving earlier than planned and truly wiggling my way into their community. The good news about that is that I don’t think they mind! Sadly, tomorrow is my last day as the temporary “intern-worm.” But now is not the time to discuss that, now is the time to reflect on the entire week that’s passed since my last post.
While last week was filled with discovery, this week was much more filled with disillusionment. Disillusionment is often cast as a very negative term, but I don’t mean it as so. I just mean that I found more than once that my first impressions of parts of BSM and the people who live and work in BSM were skewed. And so my idealistic, simplistic understanding of what BSM is all about fell short even by Sunday evening and continued to be challenged throughout the week. I was disillusioned from my idea that I got the picture, and through this I think that I was able to gain a deeper understanding of the work they do and the people who co-exist at the crossroads that is BSM.
Sunday was my third worship service. Previous to this worship service, I had walked away from the church after service feeling rather alienated by my own beliefs and a little bit wrong for having sat in with such a wonderfully faithful community while having confidence in my own, different, faith. BSM is a completely open community to those who are open to it, which I am, but it’s hard to feel completely comfortable in the midst of people who have something in common that you do not. To empower this feeling further, the topics of the previous worship services were ones that not only were hard for me to understand, but also that I felt did not bode well with BSM’s mission. But this Sunday, the topic was based on of the idea of mysticism and the “mystery of God,” both ideas which I definitely find myself more in tune with. In addition with feeling that I understood the sermon and the entire vibe of the evening, the music was absolutely fantastic and in the midst of it all I had a very strange, emotional conversation with a man who is a resident of the overnight cafe. So I walked away from this service feeling really spiritually charged. I think the disillusionment here was in the exclusivity of the church. I had always felt that being a Christian was either all-in or all-out, and really, at least in the eyes of BSM, it doesn’t have to be like that at all.
On Monday, I ran the mail service with the help from another volunteer, Kevin. I love helping with the mail service. The coolest part was being able to help people to sign up for the mail service. There were about 5 people who came in to sign up to make 315 S Broad their address, and so I would explain the rules, help them fill out the quick paper work, and give them a moment to just relax or to talk. A lot of the people who sign up for the mail service are in a time of transition, whether it is just becoming homeless, leaving a shelter, becoming homeless for a second or third time, or something else. This means that the majority of them really needed a moment to gather themselves. It was nice to hear from a few of them that just taking a moment to sit and talk with them made them feel a little bit calmer. But something interesting is that one woman had a strong complaint about the cafe. This was a huge disillusionment for me, as I had not seriously considered the perception that the people we helped had of BSM. It stayed on my mind a lot throughout the week, as I started to see not only what BSM does but what BSM sometimes fails to do.
After that, I stayed in Philadelphia to help with and attend Last Mondays, the monthly art performance by a Philadelphia art group Hybridge Arts Collective (which was fantastic).
Tuesday was a nice day. The biggest things that happened were two meetings, one with Liam and one with Erica. Meeting with Liam has been a challenge simply because I always feel like our meetings end before I’ve actually gotten to say what I mean to. I’ve attempted to translate to him what I’m getting out of my internship and I don’t think I’ve actually done so very well. But that’s okay, maybe it just takes more time and reflection before I can really articulate. My meeting with Erica went well. Liam helped me to set up meetings with almost everyone on staff so I can really get an idea of what piece they bring to the BSM puzzle and how it all fits together, and she is a pretty significant piece of that.
Wednesday was another one of those long days. I got to BSM around 7 AM and didn’t leave until around 7 PM. It was also a good day. I worked the extended hours again, which was great since I actually know most of the people who are there in the morning now and it feels like a really familiar space. I talked to Liam about the woman who complained to me about the staff at the Cafe on Monday in an attempt to understand what initiatives BSM takes to gather feedback from guests about what they do well/not so well. They held a forum a while ago to get feedback, but it did not go so well. This could be because of the extent to which mental illness is a part of the Cafe experience. I haven’t really touched on the mental illness part of BSM’s guests, mostly because it was another huge disillusionment for me. I want to talk more about it in conjunction with Breaking Bread and Friday’s extended hours, but first I want to finish Wednesday.
After the morning we had a training course in how to identify and deal with issues of domestic violence. This was really interesting, because the last VTGS meeting was centered on the same topic. (VTGS is the service learning course held at BSM that Liam runs). So I had been to a panel on the same subject, but I was excited to engage in discussion about it with a completely different group of people.
After this, we had a staff meeting. The best part of that was getting to babysit Joshua when he got fussy. His mom is a hugely integral part of the staff (not to mention awesome), so I jumped to give her a break while they finished up the business of staff meetings.
I did some menial work until around 6:30 PM, when it was time for the “No Holds Barred” bible study. Before this, I told Liam I was nervous, and the last time I went to a bible study was in 7th grade because they offered free donuts. My biblical knowledge is so lacking that it’s a little bit embarrassing in a religious environment, but he told me that it was fine and I could just view it as a “sociological experiment.” So I went, and as we began, I decided to actively engage, and sort of throw what little I knew on the table and see what held up. This was really interesting. When we first began, I read over the passage and didn’t see any significance to it. By the end, I think I understood most of the subtext. I wish I was going to service on Sunday to see what the sermon focuses on.
Thursday was Breaking Bread. I want to focus only on the mental illness bit I was talking about a little earlier. I wrote a while ago about the man I met at extended hours and how excited I was to connect with him. I learned soon after that day that he had some sort of mental illness. He seems to be OCD about things that don’t exist. Dirty city air getting everyone sick, snake venom on seats, dirt getting inside of his shoes and making him sick. As I’ve spent more time with him, I’ve seen it become more and more a part of my perception of him, which makes me a little bit sad. It’s amazing, however, that when he comes to talk to me, he really tries to act normal. He passes off his OCD as “everyone feels that way, you know?” or just avoids the topic completely. Mental illness is a part of almost everyone who BSM works with, whether it is a personality disorder, bipolar, OCD, schizophrenia, or something else. It’s really made me aware of how complex homelessness is.
Today, I worked extended hours again. I wish it wasn’t my last time for a while, as it feels really good to be on first-name basis with a bunch of the guests. I’m really going to miss the people I’ve met here, both staff and guests.
Tomorrow is my last day 😦 I’m going to the VTGS class, even though no one else from Westtown is… it feels sort of anti-climactic to end with the class, instead of a breaking bread or worship service or something that really lets me see the entire community before I leave. I guess it’s a fitting end, since the class is really what brought me in to BSM.
I know I didn’t really get to my “deeper understand of what BSM is,” but I am exhausted and need to go to bed! Look for a reflection post in a few days!