Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Reporting from On the Roof: Day 3 -- Smoke rising

Smoke rises. Snow begins to fall.
It is the second morning I have noticed them... but then, this is only my second morning sleeping on the roof of the old DI -- the homeless shelter where I work. What I notice is the sound of birds. Little tweets and twitters emanating from under the roof of the loading dock which is directly below the roof where we are camped out. I noticed them yesterday. Happy little tweets that sound so out of place amidst the hum of the equipment on the roof, the traffic moving by, the voices of people on the smoke deck. The continuous noise all around the shelter located at the edge of the downtown core of Calgary.


There's lots of it here up on the roof. And my earplugs have once again become my new best friends in the night.

I am grateful this morning for a good night's sleep. I find it surprising -- how well I've slept up here. Sure, there are intermittent moments of wakefulness, brief segments of time where I stir awake, like when my tent mate Dave gets up in the middle of the night to use the facilities.

I'm getting smarter -- in just two days! I remember to not close the pantry door through which we enter the kitchen when I get up to use the washroom during the night. The first night, I discovered the hard way that you can open the pantry door from the inside -- but not from the other side.

Nasha and Cindy by the pantry door
I'd left my access card in the tent and there I was, in the kitchen, in the night, with no power to open the door. I pondered my predicament. Laughed at myself and the circumstances -- the double doors from the kitchen to the second floor area where about 100 people were sleeping were followed by a corridor with another set of doors to navigate before opening onto the floor area where staff would be able to help me -- both sets of which were locked. And then I remembered the phone outside the kitchen office. I called down to security and was quickly released from my predicament back to the roof.

It was a better night last night. My body is becoming accustomed to the mat and the environment. I feel less exposed, less out of place.

And yes, gratitude is deepening. As is an appreciation of what people endure who really are roughing it in the night.

It is not easy.

It is not fun.

For those who really are sleeping rough, it can be a matter of life and death.

Have you found a secluded enough spot that no one will find you? No one being not just law officials looking to roust you but also -- or maybe mostly -- other people looking to do you harm and/or take what you've got.

The smoke deck in the night
Will the weather turn during the night? Will you be warm enough? What if something happens? Will anyone find you? Will anyone know what happened to you? Will anyone care?

Will anyone care.  One of the toughest fears.

Who will care that I'm here?

Who will care if I'm gone?

The challenge of homelessness. Taking care of yourself even when you fear nobody cares.

I see that here a lot -- the fear that nobody cares.  The fear that my life means nothing and so I may as well just keep going on the path I'm on.

And still the will to live, the human spirits drive to stay alive keeps pushing, keeps pulling people forward.

Driven by fear, drawn by courage to stay alive.

People often comment that working at a shelter must be depressing.

I always reply, no. It's one of the most inspiring places I've ever worked.  Every morning, people get up. People who's lives have taken twists and turns and brought them down to places I could never imagine. Yet, every morning they get up and take another step. They continue to keep living, to keep pushing forward, no matter the circumstances of their lives.

I wonder if that courage is within me. To keep getting up no matter how far or hard life has pushed me down.

Working here has taught me so much about being human. About our shared human condition.

And more than anything, it has taught me to revere life. My life. The lives of everyone around me.

It is a sacred journey, this thing called life.

And no matter our condition, it is a journey we share.

Morning breaks. The shelter awakens and I begin my day with gratitude and awe nestling inside my heart.

May your day be filled with light and love and laughter. May you know the warmth of friendship, and feel the will of life pulling you into a day of beauty.



Maureen said...

Hope the wind stays down, the temps up. A lovely post, Louise.

Louise Gallagher said...

it's about to get colder tonight -- but it's our last night so we're not coming in from the cold until the morning!