On Tuesdays and sometimes Fridays I walk a little less than two blocks down the road for dinner at the local Catholic church. The soup kitchen at St. Thomas of Canterbury has been run by the same guy for over 30 years I think. This is my favorite soup kitchen in town.
I had the honor of having dinner with this man not long after we started JUSTembrace. I will never forget what he told me. I tried to tell him my dreams and passion for what JUSTembrace could become – I hadn’t even moved into our house yet, but I was dreaming BIG dreams.
He looked at me with a mixture of compassion and annoyance and told me that people like me don’t last longer than 2 years. The message was clear. The kind of work I was dreaming of giving my “life” to was not something many people can stick with.
Just a little bit ago, as I washed dishes and put on a pot of decaf coffee, I was hit with a flood of tears.
In addition to that man’s words ringing in my ears, images were stuck in my head from dinner earlier tonight. They were images of men and women who sleep on the streets, under bridges, in doorways. These are the neighbors I eat dinner with each week.
As I cried I realized something. I’ve been ruined.
I’m living in a loneliness that I will never recover from. I can never un-do what I’ve done to myself by choosing this life. I’ve been ruined.
Choosing to go to dinner at a soup kitchen instead of one of the hundreds of popular joints within a 20 minute walk of my house has forever changed me.
Choosing to host a dinner party for the poor and isolated in my neighborhood instead of my affluent friends from church has changed me.
Week after week – year after year – standing in line for food made from the left-overs and the day-olds of the American food system has changed me.
Sitting next to a man who smells like urine and across from a man who wont stop hitting on me – has changed me.
Watching the faces that reflect only remnants of stability stare blankly in the air as they eat – has changed me.
Staying at dinner long into the evening so that I can chat with Bill, Steve, Linda, Mario, Lou, Jeff, Rocky, Buddy, Sam (to name just a few) – has changed me.
Having Melvin or Uchena or Buddy and Sam walk home with me – has changed me.
Having the notorious sex offender from across the street stop me as I’m shoveling snow to ask if we could sit together at dinner – has changed me.
See – I no longer go to the soup kitchen as a way to discipline myself to share life with my neighbors. I go to the soup kitchen to be with my friends.
Yet – here I am. Sitting in my cozy room with my closet full of clothes and shoes I never wear. Here I am, taking pride in shoveling the snow from my sidewalk and building a snowman with my housemates – complete with “extra” gloves and a hat and scarf. Here I am.
Tonight I realized that a lot of the things I’ve been struggling with lately are tied to this. Choosing to move into this neighborhood and not just give – but also receive has deeply changed me, and that change isn’t easy or comfortable.
Life is not easier. Life is not more peaceful. Life is not more joyful and exciting. Life feels harder and harder each day.
Instead of answers – there are only much harder questions – so hard that sometimes I can’t stop grinding my teeth.
Yet, I know I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. In fact, I don’t think I ever could.
I’ve been ruined, and I’m grateful.