Saturday, October 20, 2007

Where hope lives.

It was a tough day yesterday. When I got to the shelter where I work, the roadway was closed off with crime scene tape. Police cars, firetrucks, an ambulance littered the road. Clients and other passers-by stood outside the tape silently watching.

A man had been stabbed. He's going to live. But it was dicey for awhile.

I felt the ennui all day. The seeping away of energy. The sadness. The sense of futility, of why bother thinking, of what's the point questioning.

The point is, I care. Working at the shelter is important to me. Recently, someone asked me, why are you so passionate about working with homeless individuals. My answer, "because I believe it's important to help those without voice find their voices. It's important to give voice to the things that steal our voices."

Once upon a time, I lost my voice. I gave it up. Gave it away. Gave it over to someone who told me they knew my voice and had the right to speak up for me.

I was wrong.

No one can take my voice -- unless I give them the right. When I give them the right, I abdicate all responsibility for my life.

And that is wrong.

When individuals turn to the street, to drugs and alcohol to soothe the pain raging in their minds, they are giving up their voice, their truth, their song.

And that is wrong.

I cannot right a wrong. But I can make a difference by helping those who have been wronged by their actions and the actions of those around them to find their courage, their strength, their belief in themselves so that they can give voice to their dreams once again.

Antoine de Saint-Exubery, author of one of my favourite books, The Little Prince, wrote, "If you want to build a ship, don't herd people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."

Yesterday, a man was stabbed outside the shelter and I felt hopeless for awhile. I saw the sea of futility, of hopelessness of despair and lost sight of the immense capacity of man to change.

When I give up hope, I give into the voices who would say, "they deserve what they're getting." "Let them die on the streets." "It's their own fault." "They chose to be there."

No one chooses an addiction -- addicts are not that discriminating. No one as a child dreamt of being homeless, or an addict. No one dreamed of the day they would crave a drug so badly they wanted to die, they believed they would die without it.

And, regardless of the circumstances of their lives, no one deserves to be stabbed. No one deserves to have their life threatened, or fingers chopped off because they didn't pay up for their drugs (as has happened to three clients over the past week).

While I don't agree with drugs and other addictions and I don't agree with the 'high risk lifestyles' of many of our clients, I believe until such time as they can see that the life they're living is killing them, they need my help and the help of others to keep hope alive long enough for them to see the endless immensity of the sea of possibilities for change.

As long as someone is alive, hope is alive. But when they die, hope dies with them. At the shelter where I work, we keep hope alive. If we do nothing else, keeping people alive, and as safe as possible, is essential in the battle against addictions, poverty, violence, and crime. As long as we continue to do what we do, we will have an impact. We will keep hope alive. With hope, there is always a chance for someone to put up their hand and say, "This life isn't working for me anymore. I need to make changes."

Yesterday a knife ripped through a man's body and anger ripped through me. In my anger, I wanted to give up. I wanted to turn away, to take the easy route, the safe path.

Today, my anger has abated and I feel hopeful again. I can't change someone's life. I can change the feelings of hopelessness that pervade their lives when they give up hope of ever being different, of ever having a different life. I can hold onto hope as they hold onto their lives desperately searching for the answers to the question they are afraid to ask, and too afraid to confront.

I can't stop someone from being stabbed. I can't stop anyone from picking up a needle and shooting poison into their veins.

I can keep hope alive until they find the courage, and the strength, to start asking themselves the tough questions that will lead them away from the life they/re leading back to the homes and the families who love them.

I can keep hope alive until they find the courage to stop and look and listen to the world around them so that they can see there is always a possibility for change. I can keep hope alive long enough for them to believe they can do it differently.

The question is: Where does hopelessness keep you stuck in believing nothing can ever change? Where do you give up hope of doing it different as you tell yourself, this is the only way my life can ever be?

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