Homelessness And The Loss of Roots

homelessnessVolunteering at a St. Martin’s Hospitality Center which is a day shelter for homeless people has given me a new perspective on rootedness.  No matter what happens to me I always know I can go home and how much this contibutes to my sense of who I am. If I had no place to go I think I would feel less a person.  Somehow my sense of myself is partly rooted in where I live.  The people who are homeless have lost this piece of their identity.  I think that a large part of our mission at St. Martin’s is to help them hang on to the whatever part of their identity they still retain

The shower station is my spot when I volunteer.  I help people sign up for a shower giving them towels and soap and shampoo.  When a shower is free I page them and they get to take a shower using the small bars of soap and little bottles of shampoo and conditioner which kind people carefully save for us when they travel and then donate to us.  They can use a hair dryer or a straightening iron if they want.  Most of all they seem to want scent to put on after their showers.  Especially the men.  I breathe a sigh of relief if when I arrive to volunteer if there is at least one bottle of fairly decent men’s cologne.  Often I buy some if I can find it on sale since I hate saying  sorry I don’t have any scent today.  The people are always kind about it but I can see the the disappointment on their faces.   Right now I can’t find any scent on sale because it is the Chistmas season.  I am planning on hitting Walmart before I go to the shelter early Monday morning and buying something decent even if I can’t find it on sale.  After all it will be Christmas Eve and a bottle of Ralph Lauren will bring big smiles to their faces.

As to rootedness,  homeless people have lost most of their  roots.  The Shelter tries to help.  It provides long term storage where with just an ID, someone can store one box with whatever is precious to them for whatever period they need.  Our clients can also receive mail at the shelter and people can leave phone messages which they can return on phones provided to them.  Since they can’t wash their clothes we give them up to 3 outfits of donated clothes a week.  I think that the hope is that these services provide a sense of belonging to people who are struggling to get from one day to the next without a disaster.

Many years ago in Los Angeles I volunteered at The Downtown Women’s Shelter on Skid Row.  It was a day shelter as well.  My job was to make lunch for the 30 or 40 women who came in each day.  There was one woman called Lydia who was obviously paranoid.  Probably schizophrenic.  She came in each day for lunch.  She took showers and got clothes.  After several month we pieced together the fact that she was sleeping in the parking lot at the Methodist Church.  Finally I talked with her one day and she told me that she was over 65 and had worked for many years before she became too mentally ill to work any longer.  She said when she went to the Social Security office they wouldn’t let her apply for social security 

The next day I came to the shelter wearing my best business suit.  Lydia and I walked to the Social Security Office and we were able to get her though the application process and within a few weeks she was receiving a check.  She didn’t want to leave Skid Row.  But we talked her into getting a room in one of the hotels there.  I will never forget the look on her face when she walked into the small dirty little room with a bed and a sink and a chair.  She felt rooted I am sure.

Lydia’s brother who had been trying to find her for over 10 years called us at the shelter.  Apparently the Social Security Office notified him as her next of kin.  He came to see her from Ohio.  He came to the shelter from the airport and Lydia would not speak to him.  We were able to tell him about her being off the streets and having enough money for a room and life’s necessities.  While he was saddened that she wouldn’t talk with him he was relieved to know where she was and that she had a base.  I think this was the most we could hope for for Lydia.  But she was satisfied in her own way.  This was probably all the rootedness she could handle.

God bless you all and I hope you have a Merry Chistmas.   Give a prayer for those on the streets on Chistmas that they too will find whatever rootedness they can handle.

Living In A World In Which I Am Invisible

In my fifties I started to notice that I was becoming invisible to most people.  What I mean is that most people no longer met my eye when we passed in the street or had an accidental coming together in a public place.  I first noticed it with men and young people.  Even if they had to go to great lengths to not see me they would do so.  Then as I aged and lost the status of a profession this general non-recognition spread to most people. 

You may know what I mean.  If you go to someones house and they have teenagers, they don’t see you if you are an adult.  The parents may force them into some recognition of you but they usually make it quite clear that they don’t want to recognize your existence.

As an older woman it seems to terrify any man I meet to acknowledge my existence.  I have a feeling that men feel that if they acknowledge me I will then think they find me attractive  Having blessedly reached a point in my life where I agree with Gloria Steinem’s dictum that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle I would still like the recognition of my humanity.

It amuses me that when I am going into a store or walking down the street the one person who will meet my eye is an older women.  We acknowledge each other with a wry smile that allows us to affirm our existence to one another in spite of the world’s judgement.  I treasure these moments. 

So what is the point of this reverie?  It has made me more sensitive to others that don’t exist.  Who are they? People who are unattractive or handicapped or have mental problems or are of low status or like me simply old.  I have learned to try to acknowledge these fellow non-beings when we encounter one another.  Often times they are so used to being ignored that they don’t even realize I am trying to meet their eye.  Sometimes the destitute when recognized ask me for money which is a grace from God if I can help them.  What I give them isn’t enough to really make a difference and may even be used for drugs or alcohol.  None-the-less I hope they felt recognized in a simple friendly human glance and a smile.

One of the benefits of being invisible is that it can result in humility.  After my husband died my invisibility made me feel desperate to prove that yes I exist.  When I wasn’t acknowledged by others I despaired of ever being significant to anyone.  This contributed to my suicidal desire.  I wonder if Job felt that way?  Especially since he was the richest and most important man in the land.  I wonder if the most difficult thing for him wasn’t the loss of health, property or even his children but simply the loss of his identity?   He no longer was who he had been.  He was a man sitting in a garbage dump scraping his skin as it peeled from his body.  He couldn’t give lavish gifts to his children even if they still existed.  He had nothing.  Maybe he thought his children wouldn’t have wanted to know him if they still lived since he had sunk so low. 

The turning point for me was that moment when I knew that I exist even though the world may not care.  I exist because I was created by God who loves me and sustains me.  At that point my prayer became like those wry smiles I exchange with other older women, God and I share the recognition that I exist because he loves me and that is simply reason enough.

Detroit 7 Year Old Commits Suicide

A reader sent me the following a news release about this story :

May 24, 2012 at 7:47 pm

Detroit boy, 7, who died was depressed, mom says

  • By Oralandar Brand-Williams, George Hunter and Christine Ferretti
  • The Detroit News

Detroit— The mother of a 7-year-old boy found hanging in his bedroom Wednesday told police her son had been depressed over the separation from his dad and bullying by schoolmates.

The boy was discovered by his 14-year-old sister hanging from a bunk bed by a fabric belt at the family’s home in the 700 block of Pingree near New Center.

The sister, looking through a keyhole of the boy’s bedroom, saw the child hanging. She summoned her mother, who quickly grabbed him and held his body upwards “to relieve the stress of his body weight” as a neighbor removed the belt from around his neck, according to police.

The mother told police the boy was bullied at school because he was being raised in a mostly female household. Neighbors said he was the only boy among his mom’s four daughters.

Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee said authorities are continuing their investigation, although they suspect suicide.

“The report from my officers indicates bullying may have been the genesis of this, or had a connection,” Godbee said Thursday. “To a person, it’s difficult to comprehend a 7-year-old planning a suicide like that, so we’re keeping all possibilities open. We haven’t come to a final conclusion on anything, and are waiting until we do, but preliminarily, that’s what we’re going on. I spoke to homicide, and they won’t leave any stone unturned. We’re going to investigate this fully.”

While results are pending from the autopsy completed Thursday, a neighbor whose child played with the boy said there was no sense anything was wrong with the youngster.

Tina Garrett, a neighbor across the street, said the little boy played with her daughter, 8, as recently as Wednesday.

“He was a bubbly little boy. He went back in the house. He seemed to be OK,” Garrett said Thursday.

The child attended University Preparatory Academy in Detroit. “We’re diligently looking into everything,” Sgt. Eren Stephens, spokeswoman for the Detroit Police Department said Thursday. “On the surface, it appears to be a suicide.”

Schools officials refused comment on the incident, as did family members. Garrett said the little boy often played with her daughter, riding up and down the street on his bike.

Garrett said she had to explain to her daughter what happened to her friend.

“She cried so bad last night; she didn’t want to go to sleep,” she said. “I told her, ‘If someone bullies you, don’t get depressed. Come talk to me so we can solve it.'”   

Kevin Epling, who advocated for the passage of the state’s first anti-bullying statute, said it’s a growing problem that students are being confronted with daily.  “A lot of adults think it’s not that big of an issue or no worse than it was when they were in school,” said Epling, who lost his 14-year-old son, Matt, to a bullying-related suicide in 2002. “It’s a totally different environment today in schools. There are a lot more pressures at younger ages on students. We as adults need to understand that it’s a different world.”

Epling said Thursday he’s “very saddened” by the boy’s death, but said it’s too early to make assumptions.

“We need to step back and wait for the information to come in,” said Epling, who is also co-director of Bully Police USA, a grass-roots anti-bullying nonprofit. “Right now the family needs the community’s support, especially the boy’s friends need support and guidance on how to deal with a loss and how the school needs to deal with the loss.”

Epling added he’s not heard of any suicides in children this young in the area.

“This is really the low-end of the scale that we’ve lost someone this young,” he said. “We have to really figure out what was going on in this young man’s life and draw the best conclusions we can without jumping ahead of the game.”

Detroit City Council member Saunteel Jenkins, who has introduced an anti-bullying ordinance for the city of Detroit said, “For any child who thinks their only option is death, it’s heartbreaking (and) devastating.”

Jenkins added: “It just bring tears to my eyes to think about what that family is going through and what that baby was going through. Bullying, in general, is a difficult issue that can be dealt with. It takes everybody being on board and putting forth the effort to stop bullying. Fortunately for this chief, it is a priority.”

News staff writers Darren Nichols and Josh Katzenstein contributed.

All Alone With Our God

God is the cornerstone of life for the lonely. We must reach out to God in our aloneness for no one is near to comfort us. Loneliness gives us reason to pray, to draw closer to God. Being old and finding oneself alone is intimidating at first but finally it is known as a gift. It makes us put God at the center of our lives.
I came late to God. An atheist childhood put God out of reach. God is for the weak; they told me, for those who can’t face their contingency and final aloneness in a vast universe that is indifferent to man. Each man’s life is all there is and he can make his own rules since man is his own God. A cold comfort to a child longing for real meaning that can only come from something greater than the self.
In childhood survival and gaining the needed skills to survive occupy us. Even if we are not loved we are busy preparing for the everydayness of adult life. Survival of abusive parents suffices as a reason to exist. Puzzling out the whys of the daily indignities can occupy our minds in the quiet moments if we haven’t yet met our Savior.
Then comes early adulthood and career and perhaps a marriage or two for which we finally realize we are ill-equipped. Being raised without love leave raw burns on our soul and doesn’t give us a basis to understand the other in our lives. Finally we realize it is best to have no children for we fear that having been bitten by the vampire of cruelty in childhood that we might now be vampires ourselves. The one thing we vowed was to never hurt a child.
Finally in middle age, the unimaginable happens. For me, the glorious music of chant told me what I needed to know. That the God for whom I longed, longed for me. I had always been told that God didn’t exist, that he was the crutch of the weak. Finally I find myself weak and there he is. How right my self-sufficient parents had been, only in our sorrow and weakness did I allow my God come to me.
Now I am old. My beloved husband is gone. Friends are scattered across the land and they spend their time in the business of their own lives. Yet God is there for me. He fills my days with his voice in his Word. My prayers are my constant companion. He brings people into my life who need my help for a time and then they get on with their lives.
When I was a hospice volunteer, I found it odd that people would die when I left the room. After hours of sitting with the dying, praying for them, holding their hands I would be forced to leave the room for a brief time. It was then when they were finally alone, they chose to die. Now I understand.
Finally we are all alone with our God.

God’s Final Word to Job

Presuming on God is a dangerous business and I wish not to be guilty of it. By comparing my trial with that of Job I don’t compare myself to the great Job. But I believe we are given the story of Job to understand what it means to be tried by God. Right now, I wonder if my temptation to suicide is subsiding and may not continue. What am I to make of this trial? What lesson am I meant to learn? What is the meaning of this experience? Of course, this may simply be a lull in the Whisperer’s attack.

God addresses Job who is silent before God. Why? God hasn’t answered Job’s questions about his suffering. Yet God has satisfied Job because God has spoken to him and that was what job really wanted. God then asks Job who is more righteous God or himself based on the evidence.

In Job 40:8 God asks:
“Would you discredit my justice?
Would you condemn me to justify yourself?

So what did Job gain from this trial? According to Fr. Patrick Reardon, “One observes in Job’s repentance that he arrives at a new state of humility, not from consideration of his own sins, but by his experience of God’s overwhelming power and glory. When God finally reveals Himself to Job, the revelation is different from anything Job either sought or expected, but clearly he is not disappointed.”

The modern world does not greatly value humility. Certainly it is rare for parents to stress humility as a virtue for their children. You need self-confidence is a common dictum to children. I am no different. I have valued my independence and self-reliance as much as or more than most modern people do. My husband’s suicide and the subsequent deterioration in my mental state with suicidal ideation has certainly caused me to reconsider my reliance on self. In my current state self-reliance seems delusional. In my temptation to suicide God’s power and my weakness are exposed to both me and all the world. Fr. Reardon says of Job’s trial “Instead of pleading his (God’s) case with Job, as Job has often requested, the Lord deals with him as with a child. Job must return to his childhood sense of awe and of wonder. It is the Lord’s last word in the argument.” Certainly as a result of my temptation and trial I am more aware of my complete dependence on God. Every breath I take is because he wills it. This is something I have always known intellectually but it now has an immediacy and actuality that is more real than all my human concerns.

In wisdom literature the doubling of Job’s fortune and life and God’s direct interaction with Job are definitive. In my life I learn more slowly and I must wait to see if this trial is ending or if it is simply an interlude. In either case I am grateful for the much-needed rest.

Aging and Suicide

Today a release in the Albuquerque Journal Staff Wire headlined “Brother, Sister Die in Likely Murder-Suicide.” Police identified the victims as Kenneth and Shirley Robson, both of whom were in their 60’s. The brother was a caretaker for his sister and they lived in a mobile home. Police detectives speculate that either health or financial problems prompted the murder-suicide.

Perhaps their problems might have been spiritual. I wonder if loneliness and fear were the motivating factors. Our society is one that promises a “safety net”. But what is the safety net for despair? Did the brother in seeking help for his sister get handed a lot of forms with stern admonitions about qualifying for help. Was he met with hard faces at the agencies where he went for help? Did he belong to a church? Did the church look beneath the surface to see the despair? Or were they just overlooked by all these organizations of help as a an unnecessary impediment to their mission.

People over 80 have the highest rates of suicide in the country. Why? They are too often left alone to cope on insufficient incomes and illness without people who befriend them.

While there are many people genuinely trying to help people like the Robsons, I don’t think that government agencies or even churches are the best way for them to get help. Neighbor’s who look out for warning signs, who visit even though they have busy lives, who try to understand the neglected and desperate are the foundation of help. It is so easy to turn a blind eye to the desperate.

How often when I have tried to help someone who seemed needy have I been rebuffed or perhaps my help was abused; the need was feigned. As a consequence I have found myself looking away from problems and letting myself grow cynical. When I do this I miss the chance to help someone genuinely in need that God is calling me to help. I am sure that what I have done is a terrible thing in th<a
Let's look around us and notice those in need. Those who aren't visited, who remain alone day after day and remember what our Lord said about helping our neighbor and the widow and the orphan. Let's not wait for the agency to step in but get them the help they need.

Please let me know what you think about the Robson's. It may be that nothing could have been done. Yet again something might have been done and wasn't. God forgive us if that is true.

Waiting at the Closed Door

Finally the door is opening. The Whisperer hasn’t been heard from in four days. Maybe because I’ve faced the closed-door in my life and made some difficult decisions.

On Friday I decided to move from Albuquerque to Santa Fé. This was unthinkable before because by moving I am leaving my husband behind, or at least our last years together before his suicide.

It’s strange but this town has never felt right. It isn’t a fit for me and I don’t know why. I suspect it has to do with all I suffered here.

I feel friendless although I do have what I would call practical friends. Those who share a meal with me at a restaurant, those I see at church or even those I exchange birthday cards with. But I haven’t met anyone in Albuquerque who shares their life with me. Perhaps the best way to characterize Albuquerque is that it is an antiseptic that may have been good for my wounds.

This morning, Sunday, I went to Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Santa Fé. I used to tell my therapist when I lost my faith that I missed God and I missed liturgy. When I received my faith back, I got God back. Today I got liturgy back. With it, I prayed with all my senses as well as with my mind and my soul. It was glorious and exhausting. I guess it was a return to the very thing that brought me to Christ.

The Orthodox church this Sunday commemorates the women who came to the tomb carrying myrrh to anoint Jesus’ body. The priest said the women were the first apostles. I like that. He pointed out that timing was everything. Had they come to the tomb sooner the stone would have still been in place. Instead they waited and when they came the stone was rolled back and they were the first to know that Christ was no longer in the tomb. The priest said that to wait for a closed-door to open or in the women’s case, a huge rock to be rolled back is not a vacant activity devoid of meaning. It is a time of active waiting and often yes, a time of suffering. But if we don’t wait for God’s time then we may miss the resurrection.

All of this makes me think of the trial of Job. Fr. Pat Reardon says that Job didn’t know that God was trying him. His friends said that because God was just then Job’s punishment was for sin he wouldn’t admit. Job knew he had not sinned. However, God knew, Satan knew and the Bible reader knows that Job’s suffering was a trial that gave God glory in light of Satan’s taunts. That Job suffered because God allowed it. The odd thing is that God never told Job why he suffered. But it was enough for Job to understand how great God is. He understood that his questions needed no answer in light of who God is.

Now that is an example I would like to follow.