There has been so much chatter about the extended winter we have had, the unremitting cold that simply doesn’t want to loosen its grip on us here in New York. At this point, at March’s end when pansies would otherwise be braving the chill while crocuses punctuate the winter-weary ground, the weather has become the focus of every conversation along the East Coast. From family dinner tables to board rooms, from Facebook to Twitter, the cold and snow are center stage to other more noteworthy news.
For the most part, we are impatient with the weather, anxious to feel the warmth of the sun and the soft carpet of new grass beneath our feet, but for those whose homes are sheets of cardboard over a subway grate or the huddled, shadowed corner of a stone-cold step of an urban church, Spring and all it’s renewed beauty may as well be another year away. Cold is cold when shelter is absent and the city streets at night won’t feel warm until the depth of summer envelopes us.
It is, of course, a relative matter and we are, after all, only human in our crankiness. I merely offer this: as we seethe over extended heating bills that we will see into the month of April, as we roll our eyes at the thought of wearing those cold-weather clothes we’re so anxious to shed, it may do us all a bit of good to be grateful for all that we DO have. The weather will warm, the flowers will emerge and when the heat index goes well into the humid 90’s, we will complain about the excessive temperatures as well.
There really ARE so many – too many – who simply don’t have the luxury of complaining, as they just hold on and hope for even the slightest improvement. For them, life hangs precariously in the balance. For us, we really ought to remember that.
ASIDE“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.“ ~ Alan Alda
November is the beginning of the busy months. Holidays rapidly descend upon us, starting with my favorite holiday of all: Thanksgiving. Our group of twenty high school kids accompanied by four hearty adults made our way into the city last night, to reach out to the homeless men and women who, after 25 years, have become part of the fabric of our lives, and who we’ll see again soon at our 24th Annual Thanksgiving Dinner for the Homeless. It’s become tradition. It’s become anticipated. It has been the focus of conversation among so many of our street friends from our first Run in September to the later, colder winter Runs when so many will reminisce about the food and the friendship they felt in November when the iconic school buses picked hundreds of them up so they, too, could enjoy a homemade holiday meal.
It cannot be easy, accepting the kindness of strangers. And yet, over the many years, these forged relationships between the teenagers and the homeless poor of New York City have created a deep and lasting bond of trust, of compassion, of love. Watching this crew of 20 students last night engage in animated conversation, sharing their anticipation of the Thanksgiving party they’ve worked so hard on, was nothing short of sheer joy.
It was the third stop on our list of five that touched me in that way that only happens on a Run. While speaking to a woman I had never seen before, I heard my name being called with a request to come over to the back of the truck where the kids were dishing out cups of Rob’s steaming hot chili and cubes of sweet cornbread in the shadows of the park. Timothy was here and I was genuinely happy to see him. In his clipped but polite cadence, he spoke as if life was one run-on
sentence,”HelloMrs.NewmanHowareyouMrs.NewmanAndI’msogladtoseeyouMrs.NewmanandI’msorryIdidn’tcallyoutoletyouknowIwascomingtotheRunbutI’mworkinghardonmylifeMrsNewman…..”And then something changed. What I had always perceived as a demeanor guided by the antipsychotic drugs he was taking to combat his mental illness, changed. Timothy’s steady, flatline voice became animated and engaged as he told me about the program he was chosen for, a program sponsored by Fordham University that was studying homelessness in the city. He told me how at his age, he never had his own place and that now, with the help of the Fordham crew, he was working with case workers on getting his own home. He told me with life in his eyes that he’s going back to school to complete his degree. I had no idea he had attended college! He’s enrolled at City College where he will major in writing in January, and he told me how much he is looking forward to having a normal life, a normal job, a perspective that was more like a fog-lifting experience, revealing a whole world to him of truth and clarity. Timothy, for every intent and purpose, has found himself. And while he spoke in this authentic manner, free of the robotic disposition I had grown accustomed too, I felt the tears well in my eyes. The pressures of planning our homeless Thanksgiving dinner dissipated and I found myself hugging this sweet man who slew his share of demons in the twenty five years I have called him my friend.
Timothy, like so many other men and women I have met whose lives were shattered and splintered by opportunities missed, has found himself and knows now what freedom really feels like, tastes like, and he’s embracing it.
And on the way home, while the chatter in the van eased and the quiet of the early morning hours blanketed the group, I heard only this in my head, as I thought of Timothy’s self discovery, a verse from the one song that our Thanksgiving guests sing, year after year:
“I once was lost but now I’m found, ‘Twas blind but now I see.”
Good for you, Timothy! Good for you and your proven tenacity, your steadfast commitment to your own growth and your ability to overcome so many obstacles in your path. I’ll look for those Timberland boots you asked for, my friend, with the hope that they’ll continue to guide you out of your self-imposed darkness and into the Light.
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