Sunday at the Shelter

I once had the pleasure of working with a counselor in Dallas, TX. She was a sweet woman who made sure you had a safe place to be yourself. Connie, one of the people I think is an angel on earth, once told me:

“Aaron, you can’t grow without community.”

At the time, I wasn’t sure how much I agreed with her. Depending on others for your growth seemed like a weakness – not a strength. I went through my 20’s learning just how correct Connie was with her words.

We do need community to grow. How do I define community?

Community is a group of people that hold you accountable to becoming your best self, while giving you a space to be vulnerable and authentic.

I think one of the biggest parts of a healthy community is what you contribute. I’ve learned that we tend to be the ones healing, as much as we do our part to heal others around us.

Healing can be as simple as offering a compliment, or buying somebody lunch. It’s smart to invest your time by creating joy for others.

Since moving to Portland, I’ve had the joy of volunteering at Portland Rescue Mission – a homeless shelter in downtown Portland.

The shelter serves all shapes and sizes. There are many regulars who frequent the shelter for the free meal service they provide, three times a day.

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of chatting with Kathleen; one of the regulars who visits the shelter.

Today, Kathleen had a big smile on her face. After years of homelessness, Kathleen proudly held the keys to her new apartment in her hands.

I asked her permission to take a photo, with her keys. She nodded and gave permission as I took the following photo:

Afterward, she told me:

“Just so you know, this is the only time I’ve ever let somebody take my picture here.”

I watched as she finished her lunch, eating with a big smile on her face. You could tell she was excited to leave the shelter and return home. She was one of the privileged few in the room who had a safe place to sleep that evening.

Before lunch, I had a moment to chat with one of the live-in ‘staff’ members; a participant in a reentry program that focused on sobriety and personal well-being.

While we waited for the lunch rush, I asked Ned:

“Ned, where do you get your joy from? It seems like there’s no end to it.”

He responded quickly, telling me:

“You know, Aaron, I just try to find one thing a day to laugh about. Like this morning, Stevie and I couldn’t figure out how to pronounce “sanguine” in the kitchen – and we all had a good laugh about it.”

We put the debate to rest with a quick Google search, and I took some time to let his answer sink in.

When you see a man like Ned, you would be inclined to think he’d have nothing to be thankful for in his life. Homeless, jobless, and an uncertain future ahead.

How does he do it?

One day at a time.

For a man like Ned, he knows that every day is a step closer to a better life. I have a lot of respect for his grit and determination to succeed, while making every day a little brighter for the people – including me – around him.

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