Last year on this date I posted I Dare You – click here to view the post, and I asked you and myself: What do you want to do?
The big picture answer.
I asked: If you were given the opportunity to do something that you have always wanted to do what would it be?
The only requirement was that it could not be about you, that you had to look beyond yourself and your own goals to a bigger vision.
If you look back over the year of 2012, did you do it?
I have always thought that unless I was out there saving the world in some way that my life had no meaning. So I tried that and I took a few years off and I did a lot of volunteer work. Did I save the world? No, as you can see it is still as messed up as before. Perhaps as my days were concentrated on working for a cause I felt better about myself but is that not just my perception? Is there not a way to take that same idea of giving and bring it in to our everyday lives no matter what we do?
At first glance it may not seem that easy to do, but if I look back over this past year I can see how I started to look at things differently. I run my own business and I am not out there saving the world in any way. We sell skin care products and perfume. But we have a choice in how we do that and I have a choice in how I work with my team, as well as our vendors and anyone I come in to contact with each day.
What is Generosity?
Generosity is about not only giving but also about generating. It is a creative act rather than a handout, an attitude or ethos rather than an exchange between someone who has too much and someone who has too little. From Being Generous Lucinda Vardey & John Dalla Costa
I love this quote because it reminds me that each day I have an opportunity to be generous. That I can look beyond my needs and wants to those I live with, work with and interact with and decide what my attitude will be and how I will give to them in whatever I do. I find that very hard. I don’t seem to be programmed to give naturally, I have to work at it. It may not always seem that way to those that know me, but it is constant work. I have to think about what the goals and passions are for those I work with to see if I can help them reach those goals. It means not taking for granted my friends and family and pushing myself to see them as people. For it is often those closest to us we seem to forget are people too.
What will I choose?
It is automatic and easy for me to make each day about financial goals and profit, but I have a choice if I want to do that. I can look beyond the obvious to what I may do to give back to my team, our customers and the vendors that we work with and in turn to the community that surrounds us.
As another year comes to an end, I look back with gratitude for all that I have learned and the people that are in my life. Each one of them has taught me something. Some of them made me angry and resentful. Those people are the ones that often taught me the most, if I was willing to let them. The ones that gave me love and friendship helped buffer me from the others, allowed me to turn to them for help, and allowed me in the end to give and be generous.
I see now that my dare was not something to be done once a year as we turn from one year to the next. It is a dare to be taken each day upon rising. The possibilities seem endless if we were all to take that dare to do what we have always wanted to do each day, one day at a time.
What do you think?
I dare you.
I want you to go and find a mirror, look at yourself and ask the question: What do I want to do with my life?
If your answer is:
Exactly what I am doing.
Then don’t read any further.
If that is not your answer then stop doing what you are doing. NOW.
Stop being afraid.
Then kill it.
You heard me: KILL IT!
Are you going to wait until you are looking back on your life with your partner or your kids or grandkids and have regrets?
I can’t right now.
I have responsibilities.
If you have something you want to do, something that you know is going to make you the happiest person in the world, then why aren’t you doing it? It doesn’t matter what it is just DO IT!
Patience and passion
I worked for twenty-five years doing something I didn’t love. I hated looking in the mirror every morning. That’s the truth. I tried to quit many times and I was too afraid. I had too many responsibilities and too many excuses. I finally did it. I finally stopped whining and crying and blaming others and stopped being afraid.
Now I get up in the morning with a smile on my face and go to bed with a bigger one. I have never worked so hard in my life except I would never call it work. My days are absolutely perfect in every way even when everything goes wrong. Shit happens. Shit makes life fun. Life is fun. No, life ROCKS!
This isn’t anything new. Go back a few hundred years to our good old friend Shakespeare and his friend Polonius. He was telling us the same thing:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!
Hamlet Act 1, scene 3, 78–82
If you take care of yourself, and find the happiness that is there for each and every one of us, then you will pass that same happiness and love on to those around you.
Realize your perfection and live with it.
Now let’s start this day again. Go back to the mirror and be honest with that person starting back at you. It’s about time isn’t it?
As I have been on my Mr. Feisty journey I find I have been reciting the words to Pink’s latest song more and more:
Now this is some sort of a love song, or the end of a love affair but sometimes the words seem to be just right for what is going on in my day.
I think I’ve finally had enough, I think I maybe think too much…
You know what I mean? People driving you crazy? Lack of respect? People’s ego running rampant and it is all about them all the time?
Just when it can’t get worse, I’ve had a shit day
Have you had a shit day? We’ve had a shit day
I think that life’s too short for this, I want back my ignorance and bliss…
I mean how can everyone be like that? Why isn’t everyone doing things my way. Then everything would be so much easier. I mean I am so totally perfect all of the time.
I will do what I please, anything that I want
I will breathe, I will breathe, I won’t worry at all
You will pay for your sins, you’ll be sorry my dear…
Except you know what I found as I kept turning up Pink every time I heard her on the radio? I wasn’t happy. I was angry. Resentful. Anything but at peace.
Then for whatever reason I remembered these lines from the Lord’s prayer:
…give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us….
Where did this come from? Am I getting religious? Actually I wouldn’t call the Lord’s Prayer religious, more spiritual if you do a little study of it. It is something I don’t remind myself of often enough, or at least I haven’t been lately. In other words:
Whatever comes my way I will be able to handle and I hope those around me forgive me for my imperfections as I do the same for them….
I need to do the same for others….
But I don’t want to do that. I want to be right. I want to stand on my high horse and let those around me see me up there and have them bow to me. Really? No, not really. But sometimes that feels way easier and safer. I don’t want to remember that we all make mistakes and can be caught up in our own selves far too much. Who am I to judge others when I do the same?
I still turn Pink up on the radio but then I stop and remind myself it’s just a song that tells a story.
And I can choose what my story is going to be each day.
And then I do what may not be the most natural of things for me to do.
I forgive those who trespass against me.
And joy replaces anger and resentment.
And then the world seems to fall into sync……
Na na na na – da da da da
Na na na na – da da da da
Na na na na – da da da da
From a purely external point of view there is no will; and to find will in any phenomenon requires a certain empathy; we observe a man’s actions and place ourselves partly but not wholly in his position; or we act, and place ourselves partly in the position of an outsider. ~ T. S. Elliot
We hear a lot about empathy these days as if it is the driving force to help others. But is it? The word empathy was only created somewhere around 1905. Does that mean that we didn’t have empathy before that? Was there not the need for it? Is empathy something that became necessary after the Industrial Revolution and the world that developed from it at the turn of the century? Why the need then to create that word?
Empathy is about spontaneously and naturally tuning into the other person’s thoughts and feelings, whatever these might be […]There are two major elements to empathy. The first is the cognitive component: Understanding the others feelings and the ability to take their perspective […] the second element to empathy is the affective component. This is an observer’s appropriate emotional response to another person’s emotional state. ~ Simon Baron-Cohen
I would argue that empathy is not enough or not even natural. Is that our driving force? Are we not out for ourselves first? Must we not be taught and learn how to give and to share? Or have I got it all wrong and that innately we are empathetic? But that is not what I see today. I see entitlement as the buzzword of this generation where it is I first and everyone else second? With all due respect to the late Steve Jobs, where is the empathy in IPhone, IPad, or IPod – it looks like we are all being taught that it is all about me me me.
In the end, it seems that empathy just gets in the way of getting things done. If we didn’t have to put ourselves in someone else’s mental shoes wouldn’t life be a lot easier? Couldn’t we get to our goals much faster without worrying about someone else’s feelings? If we didn’t have empathy before 1905 why do we need it now?
Nobody is against empathy. Nonetheless, it’s insufficient. These days empathy has become a shortcut. It has become a way to experience delicious moral emotions without confronting the weaknesses in our nature that prevent us from actually acting upon them. It has become a way to experience the illusion of moral progress without having to do the nasty work of making moral judgments. In a culture that is inarticulate about moral categories and touchy about giving offense, teaching empathy is a safe way for schools and other institutions to seem virtuous without risking controversy or hurting anybody’s feelings. ~ The Limits of Empathy by David Brooks
Empathy is not enough. We must look beyond to something that we are usually far too afraid to affront, that which is deep within us. It is our fear that we cannot that must be tackled to allow ourselves to help others. Who needs empathy if we would simply learn to put ourselves second instead of always first?
I went to New York this past weekend for work and for fun. In the back of my mind I kept hearing a nagging voice:
Occupy Wall Street – are you going to check it out or not “Mr. Each One of Us Can Make a Difference
Sunday was a beautiful morning and I headed downtown. First stop was going to be to see Ground Zero and second stop: Occupy Wall Street. No need to mention the appropriateness of the two side by side. That is the whole point of where the occupation is. I never got to see Ground Zero, I didn’t have photo ID with me, but I did get to see Occupy Wall Street, actually I got to smell it as well.
There in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan were I don’t know how many people sitting, talking, making posters, eating, doing what you do when you live in a park protesting against the divide between the have’s and the have not’s. I am not going to explain the movement, you can Google Occupy Wall Street and you will have more links than you will be able to read or watch. This is just about what I saw on Sunday when I sat down with a few of the protesters to do my best to understand this.
Hey, my name is Simon, I am from Montreal and I have a blog called The Social Effect which is all about the idea that each one of us can make change in our world if we want to….and I guess this what you are doing here. Mind if I ask you a few questions about what this is all about and why you are here?
I usually added in, I am an old guy from…. as to most of these kids, I am sure that is what I was. And that is part of what this is all about. But I am getting ahead of myself. Each person I spoke to talked to me about the obvious reason that all the protesters were there, the financial chaos that they see affecting the world and the need for regulation to stop this. But there is more to it than that. Much more.
The first person I spoke to was Trista, she is 23 years old and came up from West Virginia and had been there for three days. She knew the ideology behind the movement and was certainly the right person to speak to first. Here are her thoughts:
This is a movement for occupation, an opportunity to rebuild and to fight against the enemy. Who is the enemy? Those trying to oppress. We are fighting for a better world, for the essence of what it is to be human, to reconstruct.
I asked her if she was afraid of anything.
Fear is optional. This is an opportunity.
She was a little intense for me and I did feel like she was trying to indoctrinate me and perhaps herself in everything she was saying, but in any grass roots campaign must there not be the zealots who believe, who fire up the others, who keep the message clear and protected? That was Trista.
I made my way along and sat down next with Brendan, who is 20 years old and he had been there for five days, he studies history in Connecticut.
Money is buying the politicians. There is no true voice because they have been bought and paid for and the one with the biggest purse behind them always wins.
He spoke to me about poverty and about not wanting to live in a country that based itself on money alone. He was heading back home that day.
Next I sat down with Collette, who is 37 and from the Lower East Side. She was surrounded by a group who seemed not too impressed with me, but once we started to talk they opened up. Collette was quick to point out that she has a job and lived near there but believed in the cause. She hadn’t slept there every night but she was there as much as she could be when she wasn’t working. For her this wasn’t about the 99% versus the 1% this was how the two could unite. She had seen a big change since Giuliani had been in power.
We don’t talk to each other anymore. The dividing line between rich and poor is so great that we don’t care anymore about just being people. I stop now when I see garbage on the street and pick it up. I talk to people. This really is about feeling part of something, about not being alone.
I got that. I started to feel like I was getting more and more of what this is all about.
Next I sat down with David, 23 years old and from California and had spent one night there. He hadn’t known anything about this but his Mom had told him about it and he and his friends were doing a tour of the country and thought it would be cool to check it out. They all had matching red, white and blue velour track suits on and I wasn’t sure if their hair was real or they were wearing afro wigs from the 70’s.
There is no unified message here. We need higher taxes for the rich and more regulation on the financial side.
He didn’t know quite what to say after that. I wasn’t sure if he really knew why he was there or it seemed like something to be able to say he had done on his trip.
Then I saw a group all wearing blue t-shirts that had “Blue Crew” written across them. I sat down with Sean, 20 years old who was studying sociology from Cincinnati. Sean talked to me about job loss and foreclosures, about the poverty in Appalachia.
Whoever has the money wins. We need to touch hearts, to make change. This is about greed. But no one is really able to articulate the movement.
I know what I heard as I talked to each one of those protesters, I heard myself back in college thirty years ago. I heard myself saying:
I would never be like ‘them’. I would be different. The world was wrong. It wasn’t fair. It shouldn’t be like that. It doesn’t have to be like that. I would make it different.
But I didn’t. I finished college and got a job and bought in to everything I said I wouldn’t. I gave up. I forgot what I believed in.
That’s what these protesters are doing, fighting for what they believe in.
Is this a revolution?
It is certainly a voice that is getting stronger and stronger and spreading as I write this.
This is an opportunity for all of us to make change.
What if we didn’t make fear an option and chose change instead?
It is your choice, and in many ways I think that is what this movement wants to give us, a choice.
So what’s yours?
What would you do?
Would you change your job?
Go back to school?
Go on a trip?
Do something that you have always wanted to do?
Better yet do it.
We all spend a lot of time here on the computer.
Since I started The Social Effect I have done a lot of things I never thought I would do.
Things I thought I was too afraid to do is the real answer.
I have learned that there really is nothing to be afraid of.
It has also taught me that if I let go of my fears then I help others.
Givers gain. Always.
That’s all we have to do.
Why be afraid of that?
Last week for the International Day of Peace I hit the streets with a few other huggers to give away Free Hugs. For those of you who don’t know about Free Hugs, watch the below video, it explains it all.
But how did I end up giving away Free Hugs for the International Day of Peace?
In surfing the pages of Facebook I came across an event for Free Hugs for World Peace, I checked to see if it was being done in Montreal and when I didn’t see anything I said to myself, “Why not?”
It seems I keep doing that these days!
I contacted Vincent Marx who had started this initiative through his site 1 True Spirit dedicated to revealing the 1 TRUE SPIRIT that exists in every one of us, in all life, and in all things and I was off to the races.
Actually, I was off to the art store to get poster paper and felt pens.
First I launched the event on Facebook, and then the night before (yes, I am one of those people that pulled all nighter before the exam), I enlisted the help of my friend Eric to make posters with me. Well he made the posters and I watched him.
Wednesday, September 21st 2011 was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky for the International Day of Peace. I packed up the car with my posters and my meditation pillow – I had organized a MedMob (Meditation FlashMob) from 12 to 12:30 and from 12:30 to 1 PM we would give away Free Hugs.
The location was in the centre of downtown Montreal (Phillips Square across from The Bay for any of you that know the city) and after negotiating with a band that was playing a little too loud for us to meditate, and finding a spot on the pavement between the kiosks and a photography exhibit that had popped up since I had first chosen the location, a group of twenty or so of us of sat in meditation.
After the meditation, I asked for anyone who wanted to join in for the Free Hugs. Anne, Marilyn and Karen were ready to give it a hug, and we hit the streets to offer a little free love to complete strangers during a busy lunchtime in Montreal.
I hope you can see from the video (thanks Carl and Joanne) we had a lot of fun. What you can’t see is what it feels like when someone you don’t know trusts you enough to let them take you in your arms and give them a real hug. What does it feel like? It just feels right. It feels like there is no fear, no hate, no anger, that we really are all brothers and sisters, from one family, and that there is one true spirit that exists in all of us.
We did this for the International Day of Peace, but I will tell you a secret, I kept the signs. You may just see me sometime standing on the corner giving out Free Hugs. If you see me, don’t be shy, come and get one, they are free, and I promise, they don’t hurt.
And by the way, you don’t need a sign to give a hug away. Why not give someone you know a hug today, you may be surprised at how good it feels.
For information on 1 TRUE SPIRIT, click here.
We did it Carl and I. We went out and took the photos for US versus THEM Friday morning for our group action in the INSIDE OUT Project.
We met for breakfast and stayed to have a few more cups of coffee so we didn’t have to leave. Didn’t have to start what we set out to do: take photos of the homeless.
But we did it. And it wasn’t photos of the homeless in the end. It was just photos of people. At least that was what we realized after we got going. We started with the owner of the diner where we had breakfast. She was ready to be part of this project. It made it easier. It let Carl figure out how he wanted to take the shots. And we got in the car and we headed out.
As we drove down Ste. Catherine street in Montreal we were on the look out for homeless people.
“He looks like one!”
“There – in front of the grocery store!”
We parked and got out. I carried the camera bag with the extra batteries and lenses. Something to hold, make me feel part of the experience. But I was the talker and I had to get my elevator speech down for what I was going to say.
By the time we got to the corner where I had seen the guy, he was gone. Carl took a few shots of me.
A girl walked by.
“Excuse me….we are taking photos for a project called INSIDE OUT. Have you heard of it? No? Well it was started by this guy in Paris and…..well, we are taking photos to show people that there is no difference between us and the homeless and I wondered if we could take your photo?”
“I am not homeless.”
“I know but….sure, sure….I understand. Thanks anyway.”
We get back in the car and kept going. We saw more homeless people and we parked.
I don’t have my words. I don’t understand what this is all about I realize. Not really. I thought I did, but I don’t.
We see a young guy sitting on the sidewalk with his dog.
“Hey bud, what’s up?” I say as I crouch down next to him and stick out my hand. My name is Simon, this is Carl.”
“Sebastien,” he says with a smile.
“We are taking photos of people for a project called INSIDE OUT. It was started by this guy in Paris name JR. We are going to take photos, send them off to them. They will blow them up into black and white photos that we can put up outside somewhere. They may end up on the net, in my blog, you cool with that? Can we take your photo? Just your face.”
We had the release forms in our bag.
“Sure man. Why not?”
RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW
And so we started. We walked west on Ste. Catherine and we asked people to take their photos. I got my speech down.
“Hey bud, my name is Simon, this is Carl. We are taking photos, photos of all kinds of people here in Montreal between 9:30 and 12. The name of the project is INSIDE OUT, started in Paris by a guy named JR. We want to take a photo of your face, just your face. We will send all the photos to INSIDE OUT and they will send us back big posters that we will put up somewhere for a few days. We don’t know where yet. The idea behind this is that we are all the same. Our project is called US versus THEM, comment vois-tu le monde? How do you see the world? It’s all about our attitude. Can we take your photo?”
The responses were different and the same. The people living on the street said, “Sure, no problem. Cool idea. “ They heard what we were saying. They listened. They were right there with us. Present.
Those walking down the street were afraid, distrustful: “If I knew you maybe I would.”
Then we got lucky and a few people did say yes.
Half of the photos we took are of people that live on the street. Half are of people that don’t. If you notice, I am not writing “homeless” anymore. These people aren’t homeless; they are just people. Attitude matters for me too I learned.
We continued on. We were moved by what we saw in these people’s eyes and we were excited that we were doing what we had set out to do. We were touched by all those that said yes, we had to be.
PANIC IN EMILIE-GAMELIN PARK
Then we continued east to Emilie-Gamelin park and the world changed.
We parked the car and asked the first guy sitting on the steps of the bus station, “Hey bud….”
We looked into his eyes and the ‘no’ did not surprise us. The pain we saw only hurt us.
We crossed the street to the park and that excitement changed back to fear and then panic as we looked across the grass and saw groups of twos and threes with their sleeping bags. I took a deep breath and said, “Let’s go, let’s do it.”
We went up to the first two guys and I explained what we were doing. “I think I have seen you around,” Neuron said to me. That was his name he said: Neuron. I watched as he tried to tie a scarf around his wrist, his friend looking on to see what we were all about. “Can we take your photo?”
I could only tell him the truth, “You were the first one in the park.”
Neuron was not in great shape. Neither was his friend. Neither were any of the people living in that park. Neuron didn’t say yes, he couldn’t have his photo out there like that. We kept going.
Carl and I walked around the park and we didn’t say too much to each other. We just walked and took it all in and we found it hard to breathe.
“I don’t think we can do this here,” I said.
Why was this place different?
Was it because there were so many people all living here together? I think “hurting” together would be a better way of putting it.
We stopped in front of an old man and Carl started talking to him.
“How is your day going?”
I have to stop here. I had to stop there too. I had sat down next to Chamberland on the bench and reached out to shake his hand.
“Not too good,” he said.
We didn’t explain what we were doing at first, about the project, about INSIDE OUT. It didn’t matter. Not to him. At that point I don’t think either of us thought this project really mattered to anyone.
I said, “Can we take your photo?”
“Sure, no problem.”
Carl took his photo and I turned away and looked up at the sky. If you are ever in a situation where you are going to cry, raise your eyes up to the sky and it helps to stop the tears.
I went back and gave him a couple of bucks. He hadn’t asked for it. He thanked me and smiled. Not one of the people we took a photo of asked for money. Not once.
We continued to walk through the park. The air was gone in the park for us. We walked by a series of benches. Each one filled with groups of people. Some of them were talking, some of them were just sitting. The last guy lying there, asleep, was wet from pissing himself.
“I can’t do this anymore.”
We got back in the car.
We didn’t say much on the ride back.
We drove back to Carl’s office to download the photos and I could only say to myself, “Why me?”
For more information on the INSIDE OUT Project, click here.
If you would like to know when US versus THEM will be up in Montreal, please sign up for The Social Effect Newsletter: Sign up.
This morning I am off to the streets with my friend Carl. We are off to take photos for INSIDE OUT. What is INSIDE OUT?
INSIDE OUT is a large-scale participatory art project that transforms messages of personal identity into pieces of artistic work. Upload a portrait. Receive a poster. Paste it for the world to see.
Watch this video and then you will get it. That’s what happened to me. That is why I am hitting the streets this morning. (The video is 24 minutes so find the time and take the time.)
It seems really simple to do this. You go to the site for INSIDE OUT, come up with a group name, a statement and a tag.
So here is ours:
Group name: US versus THEM
Statement: Comment vois-tu le monde? (How do you see the world?)
Our idea is to show that there is no difference between the homeless and the rest of us; only our circumstances are different and that inside of us we are all the same. It is really our attitude that makes the difference in how we look at the world and each other.
Cool right? It is not feeling so cool this morning. Carl and I are meeting for breakfast at 8:30 and then hitting the streets to ask people that live on the streets if we can take their photos. Then we are going to ask people like you if we can take yours. Then one day soon you will see your photo next to a homeless persons and people will hopefully ask……? Actually, what will people ask?
The idea was that in laying the photos up side by side we would not know who was living on the street and who wasn’t. Make us wonder who is the “US” and who is the “THEM”.
All I know is right now I am not looking forward to asking anybody to take their photo because I think I am the who is creating the division of “US” versus “THEM” by taking “THEIR” photo.
Let’s see what this morning teaches us.
For more information on INSIDE OUT, click here.
If you would like to participate and have your photo taken, please contact me at email@example.com. (You must live in Montreal to participate.)
Last Wednesday I did something that I have wanted to do for a long time, I spent the day volunteering at Dans la rue.
What is Dans la rue?
It is an organization that helps street kids. It provides food, shelter, support and guidance when they need it most, providing a consistent source of support and giving youths the confidence to move forward and make positive changes in their lives.
Why have I wanted to do this for so long?
Because I have always felt: There but for the grace of God go I.
No, thankfully with the parents, family and friends that I have I don’t think that I could ever have ended up on the street, but I have learned through being on the board at l’Anonyme a few years ago and the habit I have of stopping and talking with street people, that there are many reasons that people end up on the street and some of them are not at all what you would think.
Get a job!
Homelessness encompasses a range of economic and social factors that have negative impact upon health and well-being. Such factors include poverty, lack of affordable housing, lack of health care supports and social supports — all of which may be understood as problems of social inequality and social exclusion. The chronic nature of these problems is perpetuated by ideological stances that are significantly different at the community, provincial and national levels. While many communities across the country are working to develop and maintain homelessness initiatives, these initiatives are difficult to sustain in the absence of adequate awareness and funding. Dealing with homelessness necessitates collective action, and truly effective collective action demands a pragmatic shift in how homelessness is viewed. With estimates between 150,000 to as many as 300,000 Canadians living on the streets, a movement beyond ideological fixations on “self-reliance” is necessary. It requires an emphasis on equality and inclusivity in the social contract, in civil society, and in the community. (Via Intraspec.ca)
Holding Back the Tears
I arrived at the Dans la rue facility in the east end of Montreal and was given the tour and the history of the place before I was put to work. Sue Medleg, the Development Co-ordinator, told me the story of how Father Emmett Johns, “Pops” – as he is known, started it all back in 1988. She walked me through the place and watched as I did all that I could to hold back the tears as I heard the stories of what they do and what kids do who end up on the street. There is nothing that I did not know or had not heard before, but it doesn’t seem to matter how often I hear these stories that it hurts, it makes me angry, and it makes me sad, and it reminds that that I can still feel.
After getting the walk through and hearing about the front-line services, I was put to work in the basement. My job was to help get ready a few thousand hotdogs that would get handed out to kids on the street between the ages of 12 and 25 (yes, I said 12) over the next week on The Van. At first it was just me, Jordan and Chris and then Mike that work there. Then, as part of how the program works, kids would come down to help out. We put on our rubber gloves and we took hotdogs and put them in buns, and put them in wrappers and then packed plastic boxes that then got stored in the fridge to be used over the next five nights when The Van went out staffed with volunteers to give out hotdogs, hot chocolate and the services Dans la rue has to help kids living on the streets.
I am not sure that I will ever eat another hotdog. I am not sure that the kids that depend on them each night really want to either.
I can’t stand the pain
For me it was just a few hours. I got pretty good at putting the hotdogs in the buns, into the wrappers and then packing the boxes. They do this every Wednesday to get ready for the week. Often there are volunteers that come in from different companies as part of initiatives to give back to the community. I was lucky as there was no group and so it was just me and the guys that work there and the kids. We talked. We sang along to the words in the music playing in the background. We talked about dogs and tattoos. They asked me if I had a tattoo and I laughed and said, “No, I couldn’t stand the pain.” They laughed with me and told me it wasn’t so bad. They talked and I listened. I fit right in standing there in my shorts and t-shirt except when it was all over I was going to get in my car and go home. For the people that work there they deal with this day in and day out. For the kids that live on the street, this is part of their life. I think it was at that point that I started to go a little numb.
At noon we took a break for lunch. We went upstairs to the cafeteria and lined up and had a burger and a baked potato. All the staff and the kids who are doing some work there get to eat first. Then they open the doors and the kids from the street come in through the side door and they can get a hot meal. I sat and talked with the staff and watched as the kids came in. They were dirty and tattooed and pierced and hungry. They lined up and they got their food. They sat with their friends and they were polite and respectful of those around them and they ate. I watched as a girl took her baked potato, wrapped it up and put it in her pocket for later. I got a little number.
How long is long when you are living on the street?
We sat and we talked, Chris, Jordan, and Mike. I asked a lot of questions. I asked what was the hardest thing they did. The answer was always a version of, “can’t give enough or can’t help enough.” I heard a lot of caring and a lot of compassion in a place where it must be easy to get hard, to put the walls up to protect yourself.
Then I remembered a kid I had met a few years back one night when I was out on the bus with l’Anonyme. It was a Sunday night about 3 AM and this kid had got on the bus and he was a mess. He had piercing blue eyes that I remember to this day, and dreads, blond dreads. He was upset because his best friend had just died of a drug overdoes. What shocked me was not that his friend had died, but that this kid had a friend that he was so close to and he was so upset about. I didn’t think that people that lived on the streets really had friends. I realized, that I didn’t think that people on the streets were people.
I asked if anyone knew him, I still remembered his name. “It depends who’s asking,” a young woman said who had just sat down beside me. I explained who I was and why I was there. “Yes, he’s still around, he works sometimes in the garden project that I look after. He is doing okay.” I had met him back in 2006 and he is still on the street. That is a long time to still be on the streets.
Don’t you see it?
I have an innocent belief that deep down inside each of us there is a good person full of love. I believe that with all my heart and you will never convince me to think otherwise. What I was reminded of in seeing these kids and in listening to the staff that work at Dans la rue is that for many of these kids, it is pretty hard to see good. Their lives have taken so many twists and turns that it is hard to believe that there is good in anything or anyone. What hit me the hardest is that they very often cannot see that good exists in themselves.
Imagine that for whatever reason, and there are so many, that you are a kid on the street. It may start with a feeling of freedom those first few days, freedom from the situation you were living in, until the money runs out. Until you aren’t able to eat when you are hungry, or have a place to sleep and then you resort to things you never thought you would do. Things that no child should ever have to do. But you do them. And then the good is gone. And it is very hard to get it back. Trust becomes a word you don’t know the meaning of. You become someone you don’t know anymore. You have to hide that person that you used to know. The person that had a chance. That knew deep down inside that there was good, in yourself and in those around you. But that is gone now.
Back to work
We went back down after lunch and we finished getting all the hotdogs ready. There were a few more kids that came down to help. We cleaned up and my day as a volunteer was over. I was going to go home. The people that worked there were going to continue on and then go back tomorrow. And next Wednesday they would be packing hot dogs with someone else. The kids were going to go back on the streets for now. Or some of them that had started to get involved in the different programs of music, or art, or the school that Dans la rue has, would be back and start to build a future. That is what Dans la rue does, it gives any kid who wants it, a chance again, and a real chance.
As I was leaving I got a tour of The Van and saw where all those hotdogs will get passed out. I saw where the kids sit and talk and get warm in the winter and have a hot chocolate. I saw the window at the back of The Van where the street people over 25 get served because Pops knows that you can’t refuse anyone in need. Or at least he can’t. And perhaps that is why this organization works, and these kids trust it and the people that work there. I know I certainly do.
I walked back to my car now completely numb with no real idea of how to deal with what I had just seen. Except then I remembered the hope that was there everywhere I turned. It was there if you wanted to see it, to take it, to have it. And there were people willing to help you see it if you couldn’t.
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