Friday, December 19, 2008

The human condition of living

Happiness depends more on how life strikes you than on what happens. Andy Rooney
I am happy this morning. Happy and tired. Last night a group of Calgary musicians got together to hold a Christmas fundraiser for the shelter where I work.

It started with a guy named Lester. He came into my office one day and said, "I want to make a difference. Can I pull some musicians together and put on a concert for you guys?" And he did.

While the weather outside was frightful, the sounds and spirit inside the pub where the event was being held were delightful! For awhile, we were concerned we would barely raise $100. The weather was an inhibitor. The roads were treacherous and holiday spirits were wearing out on the last few shopping days 'til Christmas.

We wanted a better turnout. But, as it was, the concert had raised $675 by the time I left shortly after midnight -- and there were still two bands to go. I wanted to stay and listen to the final two, but after midnight is not my best time of the day!

And this morning I'm happy. I was part of something last night that transcended the every day. It was a community spirit of giving. A sense of belonging to something filled with possibility. Lester kept coming to me and saying, "Next year will be even bigger. I've already booked the venue and the night."

It was a night filled with giving back to receive the gift of making a difference. Every musician came up to thank me for making it possible for them to support the shelter. They had all volunteered their time and were grateful for the chance to give back. When I invited them to contact me if they wanted to come into the shelter to put on a show, they all jumped at the opportunity. "Hey!" one guy said after hearing he was welcome to come in and play for clients. "I've been there. Down and out. Without my music, I'd still be down. It's the least I can do if it might help someone else get out of that place of feeling like the only place you got to go is down."

The gift of empathy. The gift of caring. The gift of giving.

It was an evening filled with the joy of being human. It was also an evening to witness the human condition struggling to find itself somewhere in the chaos of a bar. A place to see the parallels of life on the street played out on the bar room floor.

Late in the evening a tall, skinny man, clad head to toe in black walked into the pub. Black hair. No hat. No scarf. His face had a tight, pinched look. I smiled at him from behind the podium where I was seated at the door. A stack of brochures about the shelter sat on the counter top beside me. A cash box, lid closed, rested in front of me.

"What's this?" he asked pointing at the cash box. A confused look on his face at the realization that I was there for a reason.

"It's a benefit concert for the homeless shelter." I told him. "You mean I have to pay to get in?"

He hesitated. Eyed the stairs towards the exit. Glanced at the bar. "I..." He stopped. His shoulders lowered, his head dropped forward, his chin touched the collar of his black leather coat. He shook his head. He let out a big sigh. "Great. I shoulda known. It's my birthday. I just want a drink. I'm not here to listen to music. I'm fighting with my boss. He wants to cut my pay. He keeps saying I'm lucky to have a job and with the economy..." He took a breath as if to continue on with his tale of woe.

"Happy Birthday!" I smiled and said quickly. "Giving is an option. Have a nice evening."

He stood in front of me for a moment. Confused. Someone else entered and I turned to greet them. He slid away to the bar and ordered a drink. He turned his back to the musicians on the stage, hunched his shoulders over a beer and stood by himself, a solitary figure in black. Lonely. Sad. Lost.

He reminded me of many of our clients. A well worn path to the bar, their minds filled with the story of why they're where they're at and will never get to where they want to go, if only they knew where that was. They can't see the story on the other side of opening up to possibility and lose their sense of direction. Stuck in where they're at, they cannot find a way out. For that man, finding a reason not to give is all he can give. Perhaps one day he'll give himself the gift of a new story of his life, but for now, he's where he's at. All I could give him was a smile and an invitation to come in from the cold.

Sitting in that bar, being part of the energy and excitement of the night, I was constantly reminded of how similar the activities of the patrons were to some of what I see everyday at the shelter.

A young man stumbled across the floor, his body weaving from side to side. He wasn't with anyone. He didn't have a drink anywhere that I could see. And still he stumbled. Another patron brushed past him. The young man stopped. Scowled. Stared after the other man who was oblivious to their brief encounter. His face scrunched up in thought. Did he want to fight? Duke it out. Call out, "Hey man. You pushed me." As quickly as the encounter happened, the young man turned around as if he'd forgotten something. Perhaps where he was. He stumbled up the stairs and disappeared.

An older man sat at the lottery machine behind me. Sixties. Perhaps seventy, he plugged the machine with coins and sipped on a drink. He sauntered over to me, one finger pointing and shaking in front him. "You're so pretty," he slurred. His grin was toothy. His eyes watery. He reminded me of some of our older clients at the shelter. The only difference was, this man has a home to go to. His clothes were clean. He obviously had cash. But the behaviours were the same. The loneliness that pervaded his being, the need to belong, the desire to connect, I see those things every day at the shelter.

We are all connected by the human condition of our lives. We all have a story to tell, a reason for where we're at, an excuse for why we cannot give and receive. Last night I was struck by the parallels of the street and the bar.

This morning, I'm happy to have been part of such an amazing event. Part of giving and receiving. Part of the human beings celebrating creativity, no matter the condition of our spirits.

The question is: What strikes you? The beauty of your day, or the story about why you cannot receive the joy around you?

1 comment:

M.L. Gallagher said...

Thanks for asking Mark! LOL! I must have been tired this morning. I manage the blog for work, and inadvertently posted my blog there this morning!

Thanks to you, I've fixed my mistake!