Thursday, June 28, 2007

tug of war

I am not sure how to write this but am going to give it a shot. First, I wanted to mention that the shoe guy from yesterday IS staying at a shelter now, but I still consider him homeless because it's nothing long term and could change tomorrow.

Second, I want to explore something with you. When I read your lovely comments, the praise you so generously bestow parts of me feel awkward. I don't share these stories thinking I am going to get so much lovely feedback and it makes me wonder if I write in such a way that it somehow asks for it. If that is indeed the case let me state for the record that I Am Not Anything Special. (I mean sure, we are all special, blah de blah I saw Mr. Rogers I know the drill) but I share these stories because of them. Because that guy was so endearing and funny and human. I want to share bits of them with you because they touch me in such deeply profound ways.

I have said it before: I have never met more beautiful people than the ones I do through my work. Over the years I have endless stories of kindness and generosity. Of humor and resilence and faith. Of how I've been humbled a thousand times by the strength of a single mom, or an elderly man, or a guy with no shoes. Of how I have people sleeping outside tell me how much how God loves them. And they have absolutely nothing to be (in my selfish, jaded opinion) to be thanking God for and yet their faith is strong. One of many reasons I have so much to still learn and they have so much to teach.

And you know, the part of me that isn't hiding behind a rock loves your praise. I read your comments more than once. I start to believe you. But Ego is a slippery slope, and sometimes I can feel like I am doing enough when I am really not doing much at all.

So I also want you to tell me what my shoeless friend did, because there are still homeless people everywhere and maybe we are doing a shitty job. Because I agreed with him the other day. It's not enough, shoes and a nurse. A cot on the floor. It's nowhere near enough. They are the heroes, the ones who survive everyday life with little more than a nickel in their pocket. They are the ones who deserve the praise for simply making it through another day, a long day of being mistreated and moved in circles and being stepped over. I doubt I'd last a day on the streets, my middle class whiteness would certainly self-destruct.

And lastly, thank you for listening. For allowing me to again and again bring homelessness to the table. For giving me a space to talk about these encounters and experiences that I've never before had a forum for. It's meant more than you know.

Now tell me to shut the hell up and get back to work.


Oh, The Joys said...

As a reader I can tell you that the way you write, what you write about and what you care about endear you to the "audience."

You don't get praise from the blogosphere because it seems like you're asking for it, you get it because we're cheering you on. We believe in your words. Our fists are raised and we are yelling, "hell YEAH" at our screens.

thailandchani said...

Wonderful post! I think you've said a lot here.. and it feels good to me to hear you say it.

You are the real thing.. and that's what counts. You are walking your talk ~ and that counts.

But I agree that many others are doing the same, it all adds up and that's where the solutions are.

I'm glad that guy stayed at the shelter. At least he is safer there than wandering around aimlessly where he can be attacked or bothered by any number of predators.

(We recently had a homicide in my area... a poor homeless guy wandering around at night, minding his own business. He was murdered for a pack of cigarettes.)

Anyway.. enough.

So shut up and get back to work. Just not for too long. :)



kristen said...

My friend, in your telling you are doing a hell of a lot more than you think. You've raised my awareness and I'm just one person. The only way something as profound as homelessness can be changed is on the micro level, otherwise it's too overwhelming and this to me is the crux of the problem. Too big to deal with, lets focus on something else.
I love to listen, it's the stories dude, that I love to hear. xo

liv said...

You're right. You're not anyone special. You are Jen Spectacularly Special. You are doing everything the others wrote before me, and outside of your job you are writing in a way that inspires others and pierces the collective's consciousness. You are both being present and bearing witness. Namaste.

slouching mom said...

I will amend my praising ways forthwith:

I will agree to praise you once every third or fourth post.

But that's all I can agree to.


slouching mom said...

(I really will respect your wishes.)

Blog Antagonist said...

People like to read stuff that makes them feel good, and you make them feel good. That's not a bad thing. And liking it is not a bad thing. But I know what you mean. Sometimes when I've written something that garners a lot of praise, I do feel a little....abashed. Fraudulent. It's one of the pitfalls of blogging I guess, that delicate dance with ego.

Magpie said...

Go back to work! You do good.

mamatulip said...

Go back to work. ;)

And keep writing.

Lawyer Mama said...

What Jessica said!


Anonymous said...

So shut up already. Get to work!

Anonymous said...

What Kristen said. I live in a rural area where homelessness is virtually unheard of. You have enlightened me for sure.

kgirl said...

Let me tell you a story. Yesterday I read your post about the man with no shoes. And I praised you in the comments. And on my way home from work, I stopped at Starbucks for a frappucino. A homeless woman walked in. It was a hot, hot day in Toronto yesterday. She smelled really, really bad. Normally, I would do what the other patrons did, and cut a swath for her to walk through, preferably downwind. She asked for a glass of ice. I was standing at the cash, and when the Starbucks clerk asked me if I'd like anything else, I turned to the woman and asked her if she would like anything else. She paused only for a second before she said, 'no dear,' and left quickly.

I don't lack compassion, but I don't know if I would have 'seen' that woman if it had not been for your posts.

So maybe you are just one person, and maybe it doesn't seem like a lot. But I think you're pretty darn amazing, and your arms stretch wider than you could imagine.

kgirl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mayberry said...

I really appreciate your stories--much as you've never had a forum to write them, I've never had a place to read them, and they are so valuable. So keep it up, here and at work!

Tabba said...

I will, never on God's green earth, tell you to shut up.

For you actually have something to say.
And you stand behind what you say.
And you mean what you say.

Yes, they are amazing. Their stories, their outlook, what they endure.

But you are amazing too.
Don't sell yourself short.

And you, in no way, write in a way that fishes or begs.
It just is.

So there. ;)

Z said...

You write beautifully, you don't preach, you don't praise yourself - indeed, you are always humble - and you have helped us to notice people we would previously have passed over.

You are also a generous and kind friend - we know that from what you say to us. You are also funny, good-natured and one hell of a fighter.

The job you do receives little appreciation, because the point of it is that it isn't about you. So we want you to know that it is valuable.

Apart from that, you're nothing special at all. If you start getting above yourself, we'll point and laugh. Right, coffee break over, get out there and do some work.

Anonymous said...

Jen, your stories are so rich with humanity and character. What you're trying to portray comes through, and I know it's not about you. But that doesn't mean that I can't admire you or be inspired by you.

We humans don't make miracles alone; we do it with the strengths of numbers. You are a part of that synergy you seek.

Bon said...

i found yesterday's post first, Jen...cause i'm at work and just clicked through Slouching Mom's showcase on a lunchtime driveby. but then i wondered if you'd added anything.

i think you get the feedback you do because you connect us, vividly, to humanity...yours and your clients'. and we praise you because very few of us bring so much of that to our blog pages, certainly not with the humour and character you do, and not with the context you do - you bring us into a homeless shelter and make us laugh and get it, and we learn from that. some of us - me, at least - don't have more than a handful of experiences of being inside a shelter, so the fact that you bring it to life, with the ultimate failure of it needing to exist but the little successes, the shoes, the moments of comraderie...for me that helps it all stay on my radar screen, makes it all more real. and the way you are not put off by rejection and rebuff...hell, Jen, i read that post from yesterday three times, cataloguing what you said. i know, i'm lame. but you're teaching me.

so, you deserve my praise. and the shoeless guy? he deserves a better me, one who's read your post three times and can think of something to say to try to help.

jen said...

see, you guys are doing it again.

seriously, thank you. i needed to share that and once again, you've honored me with your humor and love and support.

and when you tell me of your own encounters, of your victories and kindesses with our friends from the street it makes me so, so, so happy. so thank you for sharing that.

i am perhaps a gigantic dork right now, but i adore you guys. i so adore you.

carrie said...

And we adore you right back.

Everyone is right, it is because of your great, big, open heart and the way you share (what to you is everyday) your life with us who are not in your shoes, and many who do not see the incredible stain of homelessness on a daily basis.

So, thank you.

Thank you for being open. For sharing your pain, your joys. For being a voice.

Because you inspire. And that, is priceless.


Christine said...

I keep thinking of that guy as simply "that guy." I wish i had a name. . .

But you did give me a face, a heart, a soul.

Now go back to work!

flutter said...

We compliment you, not only because you are amazing, but you give voice to those who have no voice.
Your words, while you tell theme because the people at work amaze you, amaze us because you see them with compassion.
At no point do I worry about your ego getting out of control, or you stopping your work because you think you've done enough.
Rather I think of kind words to you as a shore, and a buttress to give you something to lean on when the weight gets too much for one woman to carry.
Because sometimes, Dude, you deserve to hear a kind word as much as they do.

Jenn said...

Shut the hell up and get back to work, you perfectly amazing and giving and compassionate person that reaffirms my belief in good in the world on a daily basis.

Hey dude, I tried.

QT said...

While I agree with a lot of these comments, I also agree with your post. I can see the reasons why you share the stories you do, because they are amazing to YOU.

And since you are the source of the story, we heap all the pent up good feelings on you. Maybe reading about your work makes people see things in a different light, and maybe they feel guilty about not having done much themselves about any of these issues.

But most of all, I think we are here to cheer you on, in a world that doesn't reserve many cheers for people who do the job that you do you, you know?

cinnamon gurl said...

I just got to reading that post now, and I totally wanted to cheer you on, to say "You rock!" Not because you asked for it, but because of the way you managed to get that man some help, to ignore his initial jab. That's seriously admirable.

But yeah... there's a lot more work to do... so shut the hell up and get back to work. ;)

PS I love your posts about the people you meet through your work, I love getting to meet them in a way too. And it has made a huge difference in the way I see and treat people on the street in my small town. Huge.

Little Monkies said...

I am so with OTJ on this. I work in the social sector, and I struggle with the work I do and the privilege that I have day to day. I think it's important for us to model for each other good practice, which is why I read what you write.

But these words come back to me time and again for people who may feel like they don't "do enough", especially compared to others who seem to...

Start where you are.
Use what you have.
Do what you can.

I think the comments about "seeing" people are especially salient...we can', as a community, help people we don't "see".


Julie Pippert said...

What Jessica (OTJ) said. Ditto that.

You keep it in our minds, make us sensitive to the human element, and rmeind us this is out there isnce maybe we don't see it every day. I think that's pretty special, but then you also are there every day doing (seriously) what you can.

That rocks. It does.

And my praise is half envious, wishing I was doing more.

So I try to add to the energy that way.

Hel said...

I think I know what you are trying to say.

But I love you for the way you say things not just for what you say.

And because you are funny and pasionate and you care.

Now shut up and go back to work. There are more than enough guys out there willing to tell you you are doing a shit job and beating down your ego.

But we know different.

Deezee said...

You earn the praise for countless reasons. One of the things that stirs me up is recognizing the depth of your compassion. Many of us pursue careers that serve us. I know I mostly do. And what I see in you is how much you serve community. I couldn't do your job, as much as I wish I had that capability.

And we praise you for helping us broaden our own humanity (as well as all the other reasons we praise you...)

alejna said...

Praise is a tricky beast, and sometimes hard to handle. But I'm afraid you'll just have to buck up and take some of it now and again. It's not just for you. It's for the people you write about. And it's for us. As OTJ said, we want to cheer you on.

I want to add that you have made me start to change what I see and do. Last week or so I gave a little bit of money for the first time to one of the people who regularly stands at a certain intersection asking for money from the drivers waiting at the light. I smiled at the man as I handed him the couple dollars, not even thinking about it. He thanked me for my smile.

It's a small thing, I know. But change so often starts with small things.

Thanks for the update on the shoe guy.

Mrs. Chicken said...

I offer my comments as a recognition that you are slogging away at work we should ALL be doing, as part of the human family.

But we don't, because we aren't all capable of it, for whatever reason.

But Jen, you are built for it. So do it because I can't - I don't have the strength to carry all that suffering.

But you do, so keep on keepin' on.


Mrs. Chicky said...

If I'm cheering you on (and I am) it's because you're out there doing something and I'm here, hiding on my couch.

So, please, keep sharing your stories. I do love them so.

mitzh said...

I believe you deserve every single praises that were written here...

You truly are a wonderful person and you inspire us to be better.

painted maypole said...

Dude, you can get an angry homeless man who is swearing at you to give you another chance... that is praise enough. You don't need it from us. But let us give it to you. It makes us feel good. Like we're supporting you in your work.
And yes, homeless is HUGE, and seems unsolvable... but when you make a difference in one life, and then another, and then another... it adds up to a world of good. It's a lesson we all need to keep hearing.

Joker The Lurcher said...

i agree with all the other folks. you bring detail to the hugeness of homelessness, a human face. and like you say, there is something truly humbling about people when all the clutter and nonsense of modern life is stripped away. you get to see what makes a human being.

which is just being human.

rock on jen!

KC said...

I Am Not Anything Special...

Yeah, and I don't snore.

Please don't be too overwhelmed by your fan club here, we know you are only writing from your heart, that you are not writing for praise. We know you are only being you, and we love you terribly for it.

crazymumma said...

YOu know I have not been around much and I just caught up on you with these last two posts.

Awesome shoeless man story.

and sorry babe. I am going to continue to heap praise on you. you write beautifully and it inspires deep thought and good actions. Take it for what it is.

few have the talent.

crazymumma said...

that said, I know that you can probably be a crusty bizatch and that your breath stinks in the morning.

a gal needs to be well rounded in her complexity after all.

painted maypole said...

you've been tagged.

Karen Forest said...

It is only because of your apparent blindness to your own goodness in what you do and what you offer others that I offer encouragment and praise so freely.

It is obvious that you do the awesome job that you do because you love it.....not because someone loves you for it.

You are wonderful. Accept the praise, accept the love. You deserve. Don't just take my word or the word of fellow bloggers for it....just as the people you work with. You have changed them as much as they have changed you. I am sure of it. You offer hope when before there was none.

ewe are here said...

What everyone else says... your stories show a side of life many people never see, never want to see, try to actively ignore. You see these people, and hear their stories, their amazing stories, and show them compassion and try to help however you can. It's inspiring. And I love reading about them... because it reminds me there are people in the world like you (and my sister I might add), lovely, good hardworking people who want to make a difference in the world... and because it makes me thankful for what I do have and wonder what more I can do, even if it doesn't feel like much.

Keep working. AND keep writing about it. I think we all need to hear it.

Willowtree said...

I thrive on comments that flatter me, but then I'm extremely shallow and I don't help anybody, ever. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't enjoy them too.