M's been excited for weeks, she hears me talk about it and remembers her time there last year so in honor of it all I came home to collect her and we went back off into the night together to the big noisy shell of a room that we fill up with people all winter long. The first week is always a reunion of sorts, volunteers coming in with old towels and rain gear and other things they've collected and held onto till we are open for business. Then folks we haven't seen since last year file in like it was yesterday, some more ragged and some look the same and no matter what I'm smiling because it's not much but it's something and that matters a lot.
We got there when folks were still setting up and she immediately jumped in helping line up the sleeping mats. When she was done with that she moved on to making bedrolls with one of the staff, a process that with her intervention required extra patience and god bless him, he had plenty.
When she was done with that she sorted shampoo from soap and then helped the cook dish up late plates for people who aren't able to arrive till after dinner is over. Each person she worked with whether client or volunteer was so kind to her, they taught her the ropes and still made time to tease and play.
All along I'm watching her, regardless of my own comfort level I'm conscious of our surroundings and how things can turn on a dime but I also have faith in the goodness of people. Besides her being there is good for them too, not many kids come through here and for many of these folks human contact in general is in short supply. She's mixing with people of every color and age with one common denominator - each of these folks will call this makeshift project their home for awhile. And it's not lost on me that she's entirely happy here with people that most of us would struggle to look in the eye.
After a few hours she's done and it's time to go. We start saying goodbye and one of the guys asks us to wait. He guides her over to the middle of the enormous room and at the top of his lungs asks folks to listen.
Hey everybody listen up, this little girl here spent the last few hours taking care of us. She rolled blankets and sorted mats and helped with dinner and she's learning about giving back and we can all take a lesson from her so let's give it up for M and the room breaks out into applause.
She stands there looking at me with a shy smile on her face as the cheering dies down and a few folks come up and shake her hand or bump her little fist with theirs. I watch from the sidelines and I can't help but think this is one of the best moments of my life so far and she doesn't even know how amazing she is. I feel tears prick my eyes and she runs over and leaps in my arms and we walk out into the dark.
As we are driving home I tell her how proud I am of her. But I can't put into words exactly why because I realize in this moment she wouldn't understand anyways and if I make it a big deal then I'm the one calling it out. Because to her these folks are just like anyone else and she's just doing what comes naturally by lending a hand.