Santa brought us a few unexpected gifts this year.
Among them were the opportunity to spend Christmas with family – and a few friends.
He also brought me a cold. I don’t know why he brought me a cold. I didn’t specifically ask for one. Perhaps that’s all he had left in his sack of gifts. Who knows.
The cold he brought wasn’t your average every day cold. This one packed a full punch. Left me in bed for a couple of days, with all of the usual – aches and pains, runny nose, watery eyes, scratchy throat, sniffles. You name it – I had it. Not a particularly wonderful way to close out the year. Still – it could have been worse I imagine.
For some of the homeless folks that I’ve met in San Luis Obispo, Christmas must have been a hard time to deal with – or at least a less than festive time – especially for those who newly became homeless just this year. This will have been their first homeless Christmas. Not exactly something to HO HO HO about.
With the New Year right on the cusp, and with everyone else making New Years’ resolutions I know that many of my community’s homeless are resolving that this is the year that they get to leave homelessness behind them.
I wonder how many of them made the same resolution last year?
Maybe those who made that resolution last year decided it was better not to make a New Year’s resolution regarding getting off of the streets. That way, at least they won’t have to face the disappointment if they happen to find themselves in the same situation this time next year.
It won’t be from lack of wanting to or the lack of trying to. There are just too many obstacles in their way – especially the stigmas and misconceptions that surround homelessness.
The truth is that I well remember our first Christmas as a homeless couple. I remember the feeling of dread that I felt as the season grew nearer and nearer; the sadness I felt at knowing I couldn’t afford to send any of our children or our two grandchildren a gift other than a greeting card.
What made it more difficult was the feeling that I had somehow failed my significant other. It was a feeling of utter failure – and all because we had to sleep at the homeless shelter. Not an easy pill to swallow for someone who had been able to previously provide for the woman he loves.
Heck, I was the guy who used to pick names off of Christmas trees to make sure that some needy child wouldn’t be without a Christmas gift. I was the guy who used to make donations, yet over the last two years I’d become the guy who had to take donations just to have enough money to buy a clean pair of socks or new pair of shoes at a discount store.
Over the last couple of years our clothing has been coming from thrift stores. Even Wal-Mart seemed like a step up whenever we could afford it. When we did buy food it was always from places like the one dollar stores. That’s all we could afford.
Things have changed for us. Things are looking brighter. There are still a few dark clouds hanging over there near the horizon. But, that’s okay. At least now we have an umbrella (also bought at the dollar store).
We’re hoping that this year will be full of sunshine – or at least more sunshine that we’ve had in our lives over the preceding two years.
We’ve seen a lot in that time. We’ve experienced things that I wish that no one else will ever have to experience, but it’s a bit naïve to pretend that others won’t find themselves homeless.
A good number of them might be just like the people right next door to where you live. Some of them may turn out to be people you work with, or someone you’ve associated with. It could even turn out to be you and your family. Who knows?
Fate is fickle. Homelessness is no respecter of persons. It is truly an equal opportunity affliction.
If you’re struggling to get by, then guess what? You’re the perfect candidate to experience homelessness – especially with the economy teetering on the edge the way it is.
No worries though. Rest assured that if per chance I see you standing on a corner somewhere holding a sign, or if you happen to come up to me asking for some spare change – I will give you whatever I can afford. I’ll probably end up giving you more than I can afford to give.
Because as the saying goes:
"Been there, done that, have the tee-shirt and the souvenir program as well."
But to tell you truth, I hope we never meet. At least not under those circumstances.
My hopes and wishes for you are that you never have to face what my other half and I have faced. No one – at least not in this country – should ever have to endure what we have: not under any circumstances.
In my own way, I pray that your New Year will be filled with hope, joy and blessings.
This past year I have had the good fortune to have met many wonderful people in our community. They know who they are. I want them to know how incredibly special they are to my heart. How or why they choose to reach out a hand of mercy, compassion and aid to this singular person and not some other homeless person is beyond me. I’m glad they did though.
Their compassion, their kindness helped to rejuvenate this weary soul – especially during those times when the struggles seemed the most difficult. Each and every one of these remarkable people have been more than a blessing to me. And although I’m sure that none of them think of themselves as having done anything extraordinary – I want them to know that I am indebted to them in ways that I can never repay.
It is to them I dedicate this post.
Happy New Years, Dearest Ones.