Today's the fabled longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice. It's also the day that groups gather around the country to reflect and remember our human kin who departed this incarnation from their homes on the streets.
"Each year since 1990, on or near the first day of winter and the longest night of the year, National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), National Consumer Advisory Board (NCAB), and the National Health Care for the Homeless Council (NHCHC) has co-sponsored National Homeless Persons' Memorial Day to bring attention to the tragedy of homelessness and to remember our homeless friends who have paid the ultimate price for our nation's failure to end homelessness."
~from the NCH website
Here in Swamp City's barrio, there are plenty of homeless folks. Always have been, since it's a place ripe with mythology that draws hopeful souls from all over. We know some by name. We know some of their stories. The Editor, The Boy, and I are some of those crazy drivers who make you wait longer at a traffic light while we pass change, water, bananas, and granola bars through the window into grateful hands. Today, we'll be cooking some of Mira Dessy's crockpot snacks for handing out to our friends near the freeway. There's also a gathering downtown to mark the day and say a few prayers.
"The Homeless" live in my heart in part because I've had direct opportunities to serve them at several different kinds of junctions: as a social worker, as a volunteer, as a passerby. I've also nearly been in their shoes a few times.
I sure hope you've heard that the numbers of homeless and those on the threshold are growing. And they're not all the stereotypical addicted men, although that's the more visible group. A recent report on NPR said "A new report from the National Center on Family Homelessness shows that the rate of homelessness among children in the U.S. has increased nearly 33 percent since 2007. This means roughly 1.6 million kids." The Huffington Post has a slideshow representing the "10 States With The Highest Rates" of child homelessness.
But you likely won't see them out there on the curb.
Back before the first Gulf War, I managed children's services at a battered women's shelter. Their stories were both similar and different from many homeless families. But I'll never forget the phone call I took from a well-meaning woman who wanted to bring her daycare kids on a field trip to hand out toys and visit with our shelter's children. "We think it will be good for them to see that these kids are no different," she said.
Her intentions were naively sweet. It IS a good thing for children to be taught compassion and that we're all alike at heart. But it's not such a good thing to feel like you're on display for the benefit of others' enlightenment, especially when you feel like your whole life is one tenuous link after another in a chain of chaos. We declined the daycare's offer.
If you can, take some time today to simply recognize how good you've got it. Dare to consider that not everyone "out there" is a ne'er-do-well cad. If you pass by any on your way to the shopping malls, take five minutes to ask them their name. Tell them yours. Wish them warmth, out loud, to their face. Every connection counts.