Saturday, November 24, 2007

It's time we made a place, where people's souls can be seen and made safe

Photo courtesy of Simone Hudson on Flickr

Earlier this week I had dinner and a beer with an old friend who I hadn't seen for a couple of years. Leah and I went to high school and played basketball together as teenagers. Not only is she a creative and gifted photographer, but she is hands down one of the funniest human beings that I have ever known. I must say that I was pleased to find out the other night, that she hasn't changed a bit. The girl could have been a stand up comedian, seriously. What she is doing (aside from making people laugh), I discovered, is something absolutely fantastic and utterly perfect for her. Leah works for the Union Gospel Mission in Vancouver. Some of you may remember that I blogged about donating clothes there last month. She's their "every woman" and takes on a multitude of creative tasks and assignments for this totally stellar organization.
Those who know me, know how passionate I am about this cause. Living in Vancouver, homelessness is something that I see on a daily basis, you probably do too.

Consider being homeless for a few confused, long and lonely days. Consider spending years on the streets after being kicked out of home by an abusive, alcoholic parent or after the wing you live in is shut down in the mental health care facility that you inhabit. You have nowhere to turn. Everybody has their own story, but most people don't choose to end up on the street.

It was such a pleasure not only to catch up and reminisce about old times with Leah, but also to hear about all of the amazing work that she has been doing. Here's a little background from the UGM website:

"Union Gospel Mission exists to offer Hope to the Hungry, Hurting and Homeless. In 1940, the Mission began as a small soup kitchen. Since then we have grown dramatically to meet the needs surrounding us. Many people who have walked in the corridors of loneliness,hopelessness and despair have found UGM to be a place of new beginnings."

Union Gospel Mission is committed to caring for the hungry, hurting and homeless of Greater Vancouver through:

-Emergency meals and clothing
-Shelter for those without resources
-Proven drug and alcohol recovery
-Innovative learning center
-Community outreach to men, women, families, children and youth
-Long-term housing solutions
-Low cost Thrift Stores
-Broad-based Community volunteer opportunities

Hearing the first hand stories about the difference that this organization makes, warmed my heart, even though I know that there is a massive amount more work to be done.

Yesterday one of my sales managers stood up in our department meeting and told us a story:
I awoke early, as I often did, just before sunrise to walk by the ocean's edge and greet the new day. As I moved through the misty dawn, I focused on a faint, far away motion. I saw a youth, bending and reaching and flailing arms, dancing on the beach, no doubt in celebration of the perfect day soon to begin.
As I approached, I sadly realized that the youth was not dancing to the bay, but rather bending to sift through the debris left by the night's tide, stopping now and then to pick up a starfish and then standing, to heave it back into the sea. I asked the youth the purpose of the effort. "The tide has washed the starfish onto the beach and they cannot return to the sea by themselves," the youth replied. "When the sun rises, they will die, unless I throw them back to the sea."
As the youth explained, I surveyed the vast expanse of beach, stretching in both directions beyond my sight. Starfish littered the shore in numbers beyond calculation. The hopelessness of the youth's plan became clear to me and I countered, "But there are more starfish on this beach than you can ever save before the sun is up. Surely you cannot expect to make a difference."
The youth paused briefly to consider my words, bent to pick up a starfish and threw it as far as possible. Turning to me he simply said, "I made a difference to that one."
I left the boy and went home, deep in thought of what the boy had said. I returned to the beach and spent the rest of the day helping the boy throw starfish in to the sea.

We may not be able to help every single person in the world, but every effort and every single gesture does make a difference. I've noticed a belief that somehow optimism lacks intelligence, and that optimism must stem, then, from a lack of experience and naivete. I don't believe that. I believe optimism is a choice. Cynicism isn't smarter, it's just safer. You can help and so can I.


Michael said...

That's a cool story.

J said...

"I believe optimism is a choice. Cynicism isn't smarter, it's just safer." That is a really good quote. I have always been a major cynic, mainly because it fit so well with my sarcastic personality. But lately I have chosen optimism and it's made a difference in my life.

I live in Portland and we have lots of homeless as well, and laws to protect them. I know that there are a few homeless people who truly were just mentally ill, but other than that, I do feel that everyone is responsible for their own situation. I have gone to ridiculous lengths to make extra money, make rent, buy cars, etc. I have gotten handouts from family and friends in the past as well as given them, but I also realize how with a little planning, getting back on your feet isn't as hard as people make it seem. I believe that as bad as it sounds, if there were less shelters and handouts, people might try harder to get back up.