I watched as a man folded his meal into his paper plate as if it were a fajita and bite into it, plate and all. Later in the evening he cried out in pain when he tried to get up to leave. He hurt all over yet didn’t want an ambulance and was barely able to articulate what he was feeling. Surrounded by more packages than he could ever carry, he was determined to leave without any assistance.
I spoke to a woman; I’m guessing she was in her late 20s or early 30s. She looked much older than her years, living on the streets has a way of doing that. She was kneeling on the floor preparing a plate of seconds to take with her. She carefully placed another plate on top of her plated meal and slid it into a zip lock bag she pulled out of her belongings. She fastened the bag until most of it was sealed and then she sucked the air out of the bag to vacuum seal it and placed it in a large plastic bag with the rest of her belongings. She looked up at me and my heart sank seeing her black eye and other cuts and bruises on her face. She was holding up a clean pair of underwear and asked if she could use the washroom before she left to change into them.
I spoke to a young man who couldn’t possibly eat all the food loaded on his plate. His pale steal-blue eyes flickered as he struggled to keep them open, his hands swollen with infected cuts moved painfully slow to get food on his fork and into his mouth. He had the kindest soul and he graciously tolerated me when what he really wanted to do was watch how the guitar on stage glowed with various coloured lights. Mesmerized he asked how it could be doing that. We wondered together if there were lights on the floor shining up on the guitar and the musician playing it.
The truth be told I felt crushed under the weight of what I was witnessing that night. My mind was scrambling and I felt panic rising within me to find answers for these tortured souls because it hurt too much to see their pain. Yet upon taking a closer look at what was going on around me I was humbled by their level of gratitude for the meal, for the jackets, mitts and hats and the warmth they felt being there. Gratitude radiated like the sun in that church gymnasium.
And then I remembered.
Why do I keep forgetting?
The best gift I can give any person is my presence and full attention, to really listen, accept and love every soul where they are at in that very moment, all the while resisting the urge to “fix” them solely to make myself feel better, on what quite literally is sacred ground.