My last day at the shelter. I am moving on.
Yesterday, I went down to the second floor day area to help serve lunch (the day area is a large open space with room for seating of 500+ people -- meals are served here, people can sit and watch TV, read, chat, play cards, etc.). As I walked through the tables, placing a plate of food in front of each guest, I smiled and wished people "Bon Appetit".
News of my imminent departure is everywhere.
"Hey! How can you leave us?" one woman asked.
"Everyone needs to leave this place at some point," I told her. "I figure maybe if I leave it will make space for others to leave too."
"I'm out of here next month," she said.
"I'm so glad for you," I replied.
And she stood up and hugged me. "We're going to miss you," she said.
And I told her the truth. "I'm going to miss you too."
I am going to miss the people in this place. I am going to miss the feeling of being part of humankind awash in the angst and turmoil, joy and love of being human. Of being in a place where the struggle to find the way home goes beyond one's physical address, to pierce right into the heart of our human condition.
This is a place where everyone fearlessly gathers up the broken pieces to carefully fit each delicate shape into a tapestry of life that is taped, and woven, and stitched and stapled and glued together to complete a portrait of a life flowing from whole to broken to whole again and in and out and around all that makes us human.
There are a lot of broken hearts, beat up dreams and shattered illusions at the shelter. And always, there is Love.
I felt it yesterday as I served lunch with two families who make it their tradition to come in as a group and help out for a day every holiday season.
I felt it walking through the tables chatting and laughing with the people we serve.
I felt it standing at the back of the room with a staff member chatting about 'next moves'.
And I felt it when a young woman came running up to throw her arms around my neck and say, "I'm back."
"It's lovely to see you," I replied. "But I'm sorry to see you here."
"Yeah, me too," she responded. And then she laughed, shrugged her shoulders. "I did well this time. I lasted on the outside a whole year, all by myself. Maybe I'll do better next time."
She did do well. She told me once that all her troubles came because of men in her life. To last a year on 'the outside' alone is a remarkable feat for her.
And I am reminded -- Baby steps. Baby steps. Maybe next time she'll feel less like she is on the outside looking into to a world where everyone else knows where they belong. Maybe next time, she'll get lucky and find that place inside where she is always at home and never has to come back to this place to get in from the cold because outside is so much warmer and welcoming.
And until that time, I am grateful there is this place where those who feel 'the outside' is not a welcoming and sustainable environment have a place to come home to for as long as they need it.
And yes, I am going to miss this place.
And yes, I know I'll be okay, because working here I have learned there is no better place to be than in my heart. And if home is where the heart is, there's no place like home when I surrender and fall in Love.
In a world of this time it'll be different, where the belief of next time I'll be lucky, reigns like stardust scattered across a dark sky, there is always a next time, always a chance to do it different, make it happen, have luck on your side. In honour of all the 'next times' out there, I went in search of one of my all time favourite songs -- from the 1972 hit Cabaret, Liza Minnelli sings, "Maybe Next Time".
(and I laughed as I watched her sing. Most of my life I've been told -- you look just like Liza Minnelli. It's funny, I never really saw it and as she started to sing I thought, "maybe this time". Nope.... but, there's always next time.)