Project: We See You – Full Circle…For Now.
Where to begin…
I’ve been trying to write this post for over a week. I have thoughts-a-plenty swirling around in my head, but not nearly enough words to express or do them justice.
But, I’ll do my best.
The night before the ceremony found me sitting on my butt, with so much left to do. The all too familiar procrastinators’ panic set in, and I kicked myself for not having managed my time more efficiently.
My dear friend, Zach, showed up at my door earlier in the week with a neon green bag of new underwear. Oddly enough, not the weirdest thing to happen since we’ve been friends.
Also, Ruben came through in the bottom of the ninth, over-nighting me fifty pairs of new socks. I would later learn socks are amongst the most cherished items for people living on the streets. And, not just during the winter months. In the summer, fungal infections of the feet are quick to set in.
Then, Kendra sent me packs of q-tips to complete our supply, and Claire, a very generous monetary donation.
The goodness train could not be derailed.
Finally, the pedicure kits arrived. I was worried they wouldn’t get in on time, so…phew.
I slipped on rubber gloves, complete with a loud SNAP, to freak my husband out. Much to his
disappointment relief, I was just finishing up the shampoo details.
That morning, I went through the bags making sure each was complete, and separated them according to gender.
My dog was a huge help.
A few hours before set-up, it dawned on me how perfect it would be to slip $5 gift cards from McDonald’s into each bag. Angry at myself for not having thought of it sooner, I hauled ass to see what I could do with so little time left.
The manager, Yolanda, shut down an entire line to process the gift cards, running each through the register one by one.
After inhaling my Happy Meal, and screaming, ” WHAT THE HELL? I ASKED FOR THE GIRL TOY!” on my way out, I hauled even faster ass to FedEx to print out fifty copies of the letter I’d written. I wanted more than anything for those that received them to know they were not haphazardly thrown together, but that they came from a place of love and thoughtfulness….from all over the country.
Besides that, I wanted to apologize for the times I failed to treat them as my equal…as a human being.
I spent two, kid-free, hours at my coffee shop pouring everything I had into that letter. It was a rare moment of writing for me, filled simultaneously with the passion I always feel and the skill that often escapes me.
I saved it and slammed my computer shut, not bothering to turn it off.
Later that night after the boys were in bed, I sat down to edit.
But, the letter? Had vanished.
It was just…poof…gone.
Such a gut-punch.
And, although I remembered most of what I’d said, writing it based on memory, rather than the heart-words that had flowed so easily just hours before, felt regurgitated, robotic, and insincere.
But, with so much to do, I had to settle for writing a quick, more condensed version…something I’ve felt deflated by ever since.
If you’re interested in reading what I wrote, or you wish to learn more about how this all got started, you can do so here HERE.
Moving on to what’s important, though…
I mentioned I’d include a photo of a bag in it’s entirety.
So, here it is, minus a few things.
When I pulled up, a pack of friendly faces raced over to help me unload the loot.
I approached the area where the ceremony was held, and before me was a long, winding line of people, quietly waiting to get their mouths on a meal.
In a city with over six million people, I’m used to spotting the homeless everyday. But, even so, I was not prepared for this. It’s not until you’ve seen 500 homeless people, all at once, that you can truly grasp just how enormous the epidemic.
I swallowed my shock and sadness, shoving it deep down to be felt later on, and jumped right in.
They gave me the choice of simply dropping off the donations and leaving, but, hell no, this is not what the project is about. Dumping the bags and driving away was too easy and not an option. I needed to feel the discomfort that I’ve run from all these years.
So, I threw my whole-self in and began talking to anyone who would listen, extending my hand to those people I usually speed passed, because I’m in a hurry to make it to my oh-so-important pedicure appointment.
I had a lengthy conversation with an older man. I asked him how long he’d lived on the streets and what led him there. He told me he’d been an addict for most of his life, but had finally found his way to sobriety. Then, beaming, he pulled out a thick, folded-up, piece of paper from his pocket.
This is my new apartment lease, signed on December 10th. I have a home again. But, I cannot turn my back on all my friends out here. I have to remember where I came from, and all those who are still there.
He stuck out his hand and I bear-hugged him – an awkward habit of mine that often catches people off-guard. But, not him. He was all about the bear-hugs.
The bags were unloaded and placed behind a long, white table, to be distributed following the ceremony.
The many volunteers were busy setting up for the memorial – the reading of the homeless who’d lost their lives in 2012.
Nightfall came on quickly, but as the sky turned dark city hall fought back, glowing beautifully for the lost souls we had gathered there to honor.
I stood around for a while, not knowing quite what to do with myself, when one of the organizers motioned for me to go over. He asked if I’d like to read a few of the names.
As much as I hate the way my voice sounds over a microphone, of course, I said yes.
They gave me a list of five names. Five people I never knew existed until that moment. But, after reading their names over and over again, wanting to make sure I pronounced them correctly, I realized that I did know them.
They were someone’s son, brother, father, and friend. They were one of us.
And, even though they didn’t have a house, or much of anything else to call their own, it didn’t mean they shouldn’t been remembered and given a proper farewell.
After the last of the names were spoken, the bags and other donations were handed out.
I wanted to capture this moment, but without invading their privacy or making them feel like an object, so I quickly snapped a picture and walked away.
There was some minor squabbling from those that wanted more than one bag, and others who were too far back in line to even receive one.
I said goodbye to those I had the pleasure of meeting, and headed towards my now empty car, once filled with the things I never think twice about having.
Before leaving, I bummed a smoke from someone (I know, surgeon general, I KNOW), and found a secluded spot to sit and process.
It was so cold outside, and a part of me felt guilty for getting back into my car. The car with the heated seats and toasty air, that would take me back to my warm, safe, and food-filled house.
I watched people, the bags slung over their shoulders, walk away…to nowhere…and I sat sobbing on the steps, knowing that something inside of me had changed that night. I would no longer bitch about what I want, instead I’d be more appreciative that I have all I need.
A week later, a friend posted this on Facebook…
A few days after that, I went to the Apple Store to get a first world problem repaired. On the way back home I, too, spotted a man with one of our bags.
This week has been a wet one. New Year’s Eve brought with it heavy rain and thunderstorms, making it hard to tell the booms of fireworks and thunder apart.
I’d been pretty down that I wasn’t able to help as many people as I’d hoped. But, that night, I realized there were fifty people warding off the rain with their ponchos, and fighting off the cold with their socks, warm hats, and blankets.
And, THIS, I reminded myself, is what it’s all about – helping one person at a time whenever we’re able.
Below is the video of the memorial. It cuts off right before I read my names – pssshaw! – but you can spot me towards the right shuffling back and forth, and fidgeting as usual.
I’ve been asked about my future plans for this project.
I’m still bouncing ideas around, but I think I’ve got a grasp on where I want to take it.
Would I love to hand out these giant bags every month of every year?
But, realistically, I fear burnout, and I simply don’t have the supplies for it.
So, tentatively, I’d like to distribute these larger bags a few times a year, maybe once each season, while focusing on individual items to hand out each month.
For example – January: bus passes; February: grocery gift cards; March: Umbrellas – and so on.
Project: We See You is still a work in progress, but one I will not abandon, like I do with most things. Commitment is not my strong suit.
Last, but certainly not least, I want to thank all of you who took the time to make this happen. I’m positive I’ve left people out, and for that I am sorry, but please know that I never could have done any of this without you. Whether you donated supplies, time, money, or encouragement…it all mattered so much to me.
You inspire me.