Writing such a piece collaboratively takes great patience and perseverance on the part of everyone involved. People come and go. They 'get housed', they go to jail, they disappear, they're on a bender and simply can't turn up. One Tuesday they're there, eager to participate. The next, they want to pull all their contributions, scrub their name from the file and erase their presence.
It is a constant art of juggling, appeasing, cajoling, coercing, begging and pleading. It is a constant labour of love.
Our process is simple. We meet every Tuesday from 4 to 6pm, whoever turns up is invited to share their 'weather report' -- a statement about what's going on for them in that moment and anything they want to share from the previous week.
We read something from the past week's writings, or maybe just something inspiring someone wants to share. From there, we do a few theatre exercises to 'build group' and then, we sit down to write. The topic always pertains in some way to 'love'. The instructions simple: Write for ten minutes, in silence, about... and a topic is provided:
* Your worst date.
* A perfect first date.
* Wedding vows.
* A lover's quarrel
* A break-up.
* The meeting between two people at the shelter.
* A wedding dress memory.
* A memory of love.
It is hard work, this writing from the heart of heart matters. Hard work for those who don't live at the shelter and even harder for those who do. For in the writing, in the exploration of love, in the digging into memory and dreams are the sticky spaces where love went awry, was lost, or simply died. In the writing are those spaces where pain edges into peace of mind, where loss drives happiness away, where memories of love that has died erupt on the page and anger and pain collide with memory.
It was the pain of loss that lead someone to ask a question last week -- Where does love go when it dies?
My response was the thing you're told never to do -- answer a question with a question.
Can love die? I asked. Or is it our willingness to be open to its presence that dies?
The question lead to a discussion. To insight and openings and feelings spilling out.
Love isn't present in a homeless shelter, said one man. It's just not possible.
I believe in the impossible, answered another.
That's stupid, replied another.
Remember, this is a safe and respectful place, I interjected.
Sorry, said the participant who had commented last. I just meant if something's impossible, how can you believe in it. Doesn't impossible, by its very definition, mean there's nothing to believe in?
What do you think? I asked.
I think it's impossible to find love at the DI, he replied.
And then, we wrote. Ten minutes on "Love at the DI."
This was my contribution:
Love at the DI
It seems impossible that a couple could fall in love and get married in a place like the DI. Loving someone is hard enough without adding in the challenges of living in a place like this where the greatest common denominator is the nothing everyone shares.
Nothing to hold onto. Nothing to hold out for. Nothing to keep to yourself.
Life in the DI is filled with constant noise. Continual jostling for position, possessions, possibility or sometimes impossibility of a bed, a chair, a shower, a bar of soap, a quiet corner.
How can love between two people grow when they never get a chance to just be two people, being together, hanging out?
Think about it. Out there in the ‘real world” love isn’t built on big moments. It grows in the quiet times. The silences shared, the simple times of kicking back and doing nothing but being together. The joy of laughter sparked by nothing other than the thought it’s you and your beloved, together against the world.
In the DI, it’s the world against you and him and her and her and him and them and us and you.
It’s the world against a thousand people, fighting to find just one single square inch of space where they can be themselves without having to constantly watch out for who’s behind them, who’s watching, who’s seeing, listening, hearing, everything you think, feel, say, smell, know, do.
In the DI, saying goodnight becomes a furtive look over a shoulder to see who's watching. Will staff catch you stealing a kiss before you separate and go to your separate dorms? Will someone tease you about those tender looks, or, as one woman said happened to her, will a cop stop his car as you walk down the street, holding hands and seeking just a few moments of together time, and ask, "Hey Giselle. What corner you standin' on tonight?"
It’s a daunting thought to think someone can find themselves at a homeless shelter, let alone that they could find some special someone to love, to hold, to be with forever.
But then, now is not forever, especially at a place like the DI. And maybe that’s what’s true about love in a place where forever settles into the long cold winter of your soul feeling like it's dying with every breath. Maybe what's true about love in a shelter is love may not be forever but while it lasts, it sure makes being there easier to be the place you're at, easier to endure, easier to live.
Love is present at the DI. Just like it's present where ever we are when we turn up and get into the moment of being present with where we're at.