Witnessing raw need can make us feel a range of conflicting emotions: anxious, uncertain, compassion and maybe even slightly guilty. We want to help but may not know whether or how to do so. Those are difficult feelings.
I write today not just to applaud a bunch of teens who got up early on a Saturday morning to help, without a single request for "service hours," but to underscore the importance of a packet of mayonnaise.
Second, well, look back at what I wrote, above, "I unlocked the door to my office." I unlocked my door, just as I had locked my house on leaving for work, unlocked my car to drive to work and locked it again on arriving.
What made it even more appalling than the subject matter itself -- rat bites in your sleep -- was the calm, conversational tones they used to exchange this information with each other, like comparing restaurants or the easiest places to find parking.
Monday's weather was cold, but I could not sense the dangerous "polar vortex" of sub-zero temperatures that newscasters kept warning would descend on the mid-Atlantic that very night. Not for the first time, I wondered about life on the street.
Living on the streets is a miserable, painful existence, fraught with physical and emotional difficulties. Maybe the holidays are the straw that breaks the camel's back. Or maybe they are just the burden of yet another straw.
For lots of different reasons, our clients generally are not currently in close contact with their families; if they were, they might not be sleeping on the streets. But they have families, of course, and they have memories of them.
Those who are hungry, those who are living unsheltered, those who desperately need what so many of us certainly do take for granted, are not animals in a zoo from which we all can learn. They are human beings who need our attention, resources and support.
This December 9th is the due date of a woman I will probably never meet. She lives in a tarpaulin-tent in some woods behind a convenience store, in a Maryland town a few miles north of where I sit right now. Few of our clients are expectant women, but it's not unheard of.
Whatever one's religion, the sheer noise of this season must scratch open those wounds. The outpouring of holiday offerings from kind-hearted souls are much-needed band-aids, but our clients have injuries that need stitches or surgery.
I'm well aware that our office mailing address is a sorry substitute for a home address. But at least it's a place where someone living on the streets can tell someone, anyone, where and how to find them.
I saw hope almost crush a man: Day after day, "Joseph," an older man, silently took the same seat at the same table at our Center. He was waiting for approval of his housing application, and the waiting and hoping, combined, almost paralyzed him.