Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Trying to live Christmas

With each passing year, I find myself more cynical and frustrated by the month of December. Like Charlie Brown and Linus, I try to see Christmas for what its meant to me. But I get all bound up in the commercialism, who's supposed to get what, what day do we have to leave, when are we getting back, reciprocal card giving, hey! they'll love this gift card, atheists hatin' on Christians, "peace seeking" Christians spewing hate back at non-believers, Music Row hacks trying to squeeze yet another consumer dollar with a seemingly endless supply of lame country music Christmas albums, etc.

One spot of peace for me the last three years - including a few hours last week - has been at Project Homeless Connect. A Nashville organization called The Key Alliance has some lofty and noble goals of raising funds to implement programs to end chronic homelessness in Nashville over the next 10 years. One of those initiatives is to have a one-day event called Project Homeless Connect.

PHC offers a single-day event where homeless folks can get help in a myriad of ways and on a priority-assessed basis. Personal identification, coats, shoes, a haircut, a dental exam, an HIV test, legal services, pet care, housing applications, etc.

The group with whom I spent part of the day was Room in the Inn. I've blogged about this organization before, and I'm likely keep doing so in the future. In the Nashville/middle Tennessee area, RITI is perhaps best known for helping the homeless get a place to stay for a night in local churches and synagogues from November 1 through March 31.

But the organization is so much more. They have an art lab, technology and other job training classes, sessions on how to get a GED, a post office box for folks needing an address for an employer, drug and alcohol dependency sessions, and so on.

One of the most spiritually-grounded and humbling services they offer once a week is feet washing and care. A foot-washing center was set-up at PHC - and that's where I spent a few hours.

Now, before you get any ideas - I didn't go "all in". I was more than willing to empty, clean and refill the wash tubs; sanitize nail trimmers and pumice pads; ensure the volunteers had fresh towels to use; give out socks to the guests; and greet folks with a smile and "how ya doin' today?". Yet, I just couldn't muster that last bit of Christmas spirit to wash the feet of others myself.

Note: The rest of the pictures below were taken by various folks throughout the day. Clicking them will take you to their Facebook page, Twitpic site, etc.

I hustled as much as I could amongst the 8 to 10 wash stations we had going at once.
  • Emptying a tub here and there.
  • Signaling a heads up to the sign-in table when we had an open station.
  • Giving a large garbage bag to a few folks as their only "luggage" to carry a few meager possessions.
  • Trying to get a read from the body language of those who volunteered to wash to anticipate who may be ready for a break.
But frequently, I found myself pausing to just take it all in ... again. I've witnessed this scenario more than once - yet its always dramatic in a subtle way.

The volunteers took about 20 minutes per guest - TWENTY MINUTES - to wash and dry their feet, trim nails, do a simple visual inspection for signs of a larger clinical problem, massage the feet with lotion, and put on a pair of fresh socks.

To witness the humility required to give that level of personal attention to someone is inspiring.

Similarly, it takes a special person to sit in the chair and receive that level of attention. Homeless folks own essentially nothing from a material perspective. The one thing many of them possess and hold onto, however, is their pride. Sometimes that level of pride may be too great to allow one's self to receive this type of gift. To see folks have a healthy dose of pride - or moderate their strong supply of it - in order to receive the offering of the foot care is equally inspiring.

At the end of the day, RITI volunteers served about 100 people - men and women, young and old, black and white. I was there for about half the day and left feeling I had experienced part of Christmas.

At the same time, I had a twinge of guilt for not being able shelve part of my pride and cross that line to more fully immerse myself in the experience. Maybe next time...

Here are a few links for those who want to know more about homeless relief in the Nashville area. Even if you don't live in the area, I'm quite sure the info at these sites will spur some ideas for action for wherever you are. We certainly don't have the market cornered on this problem.

The Key Alliance - Web - Twitter
Project Homeless Connect - Twitter
Room In The Inn - Web - Twitter
The Homeless Guy - Blog


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