Dear Inner Circle,
Thank you for the overwhelming response to last week’s note. I spent the better part of the weekend responding to everyone who wrote back. The outpouring of love and support was, and remains, humbling and inspiring all at once. Who would have thought by sharing my imperfections and that of the Owen household, that such warmth, such community would result? It reminds me yet again that perfectionism is a curse. To hold ourselves to impossible standards and whip ourselves for anything less than perfection is a path of restless discontent. To project perfection not only fails to impress, it actually pushes people away; it turns companions into competitors.
This week is National Homelessness Week. Gosh it’s easy to judge a person who is experiencing homelessness; in us is a reflex that is inclined to attribute blame to people whose circumstances are different. This week please make a conscious effort to stand in the shoes of someone who shivers at night, who feels invisible while in public, who fights against a sense of utter worthlessness, who is in constant danger of violence, abuse and the exploitation which are part of life on the street. Wayside’s mission is creating community with no ‘us and them’”. We have no desire to see people as an object of pity or charity but rather to see a person not only with dignity, but with a future.
People often ask me if I ever “switch off”. I get asked to speak often about “resilience”, as if resilience was an inner organ that contains a certain quantity of resilience. I guess if Wayside was a ‘charity’ and our people were ‘clients’ or ‘customers’, then the questions and discussions would make sense however…resilience is a gift, given by the people we meet. It’s people who experience homelessness, who by sharing their lives, bring me more in touch with my own humanity – it is they who make me, Jon. The people we meet at Wayside are not a means to some end. They are not statistics that justify our next donation; they are people with stories, with beauty, waiting to be met. Where there is a charity case, there is a do-gooder; where there is a client, there’s an expert; where there is a customer, there’s a salesperson; where there’s a thing, there’s another thing.
This week someone who is now closer to me than a brother visited me just to express his love and also for us to rejoice in the life he is now living, compared to the life he had previously lived on the street. We both walked away with our hearts full, feeling more alive than before we had met and both with watery eyes.
We are going to be living with COVID restrictions for a long time yet. One of the books that helps me through these weird and tough days is Viktor Frankl’s Search for Meaning. He lost his wife and parents in a concentration camp and he worried about losing his own sanity, his own self. During his time in the camp he observed that those who lost purpose and hope would not last long, even if their bodies were healthy. Our ability to endure through times that feel like they will never end, is to assert and shout, “We’ll meet again”. I would recommend you saying this out loud to those from whom you cannot meet just now. If you are in complete isolation, then say it to your cat or the sky, but say it.
Till we meet again, thanks for being a part of this Inner Circle,