Cooking With the Fallen Ones--Jake
It is an ongoing temptation to think of ourselves as living under a curse. The loss of a friend, an illness, an accident, a natural disaster, a war, or any failure can make us quickly think that we are no good and are being punished. This temptation to think of our lives as full of curses is even greater when all the media present us day after day with stories about human misery.
Jesus came to bless us, not to curse us. But we must choose to receive that blessing and hand it on to others. Blessings and curses are always placed in front of us. We are free to choose. God says, Choose the blessings! Henri Nouwen
Recently I was in Tucson and as I was coming out of the door of a restaurant --there was three young guys panhandling in the heat, and they recognized me and was more than happy to see me, and so I bought them a meal and we talked as friends do when they have not seen each other in a long time. My travelers, 19, moving around the country, begging, hanging out, simply having fun. But in the tents on Polk Street, on Divisidaro and other streets there is much suffering.
I was recently with an old time friend, visiting, and she brought up homelessness, and I told her I did not want to talk about it. I have to be careful when I talk to most of my housed friends--they see homelessness as a "problem." They do not see the faces--I sometimes have nightmares in remembering faces of people as they sleep outside my door, or have moved on ,and the one's who have died. Homelessness for me is people, and is very personal.
Homelessness for me is in the photo of 'Jake", a veteran, whom I have known for years, who sleeps on the street, has difficulty with his temper, whom I have seen racially discriminated against repeatedly. Jake is difficult, to say the least, sometimes I am clinching my teeth as he follows me down the street talking about who knows what. Jake is difficult.
Homelessness for me is each young person I come into contact with in the Park and on the street. Late last night as I parked my car and was coming around the corner on Sacramento Street, a dozen people in their tents called my name. It tears my heart up as I go into my nice place, and leave my friends on the street. It hurts like hell, it gnaws at me, it tears me up. For they are my friends--when I have been ill it has been my homeless friends who have taken care of me; they have given me more than I can ever return to them.
Homelessness for me is in each person I know, for all of us are homeless in our own way--in our desperate search for friends, money, more material goods--all of us are homeless, but in different ways--we all suffer.
I am struggling with depression, yes, but this comes with the territory of entering into the lives of people who suffer; My depression is simply my humanity. When I took my first church at 16 and a half I was told I would be "pricking the conscience" of the middle class for the next 60 years; well it wears you out when few hear you, when few can not cross their boundaries of housing, money, and enter into communication in a more total way, and not be afraid.
My best friends are younger than I am for a reason-they are not afraid to be open, to accept me, and what I do for what it is. They take me for me. I love hanging out with them--for I am just River or whatever name they choose to call me. Nothing more, nothing less. They see my fucked upness and love me anyway. No expectations. I enjoy their ball games, hanging in their rooms watching T.V., driving them around--simply because--there is no judgment, only acceptance.
As Henri Nouwen tells us we must accept our blessings, and one blessing is the depression and the doubts that fill me for they empower me to think, to struggle, and to feel with all of my heart and give my life away. Yes I doubt, I scream at God, I go in and out of depression--and in doing so I come out screaming at the top of my lungs and keep on working.
John Steinbeck in his book The Grapes of Wrath describes the migrants and the Great Depression--change the labels and you walk on our streets today--nothing has changed--only when our hearts change can we find hope, only when we open our hearts and minds to others can there be justice, housing, health care.
Demonstrate--yes, but demonstrate first of all with your heart for love of your neighbor--for the neighbor in the dirty blanket, the dirty clothes and body, demonstrate for the love of your neighbor with your actions and heart for the undocumented, but give of your heart and mind without judgment. In all of the great demonstrations we have had in recent months I have seen few people give food to a homeless person--for me true a demonstration is with our hearts--give a sandwich. See the need of the other in front of you.
Demonstrate for our own homelessness, and see how all of homelessness plays into the hands of greed, and death--for homelessness ends when we realize that we are all travelers on the road to God, and in so doing we share of everything=ourselves, and our possessions, and in sharing find the common bond of our humanity. We are all in this together! Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!
+Fr. River Damien Sims, sfw, D.S.T., D.Min.
P.O. Box 642656
San Francisco, CA 94164
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