Tag Archives: homeless

On to Better Things

I really do try to spend as little time as possible online (no, really–I do), and for that reason it’s rare that I read others’ blogs.  No doubt I’m missing a lot of good stuff, but I do like to try to get outside and do other things from time to time.

However, a few weeks ago I got a “Like” on this blog, and, although I usually don’t take the time to do so, something told me to take a look at the blog that belongs to the person who did the “Liking.”  (I still find this business of “liking,” “friending,” etc., a little ridiculous, but that’s beside the point.)

What I found was one of the most worthwhile uses of blog-space that I’ve ever seen.  The blog, which is called, “Gotta Find a Home” (http://gottafindahome.wordpress.com/), is written by a man named Dennis Cardiff, who has befriended (and by that I mean that he has become a true friend to them–it’s clear that he loves and respects them as they deserve to be loved and respected) a group of homeless people where he lives.  His posts are simply records of the daily conversations he has with them when he visits with them.  Through him, we see their struggles, their sense of humor, their failings (failings no worse than those of anyone else), their hopes.  Mr. Cardiff neither condescends to nor attempts to make heroes of his friends.  He simply sees them, loves them, and–most importantly–lets them know that he really cares about them as they are.  He doesn’t try to “save” anyone (although I’m certain that if one of them asked for his help with something he would easily give it), and he doesn’t try to convert anyone.

Here’s a quote from his introduction to “Gotta Find a Home”:

I can’t do much for these people except to show them love, compassion, an ear to listen, perhaps a breakfast sandwich and a coffee. I would like to do more. To know them is to love them. What has been seen cannot be unseen.

When I lived in New Jersey, I became good friends with a number of the homeless people in Hoboken.  When I had some money, I would give them some of it, or buy them something to eat (I am not congratulating myself for this; for whatever reason, it always makes me really happy to do so, and I always say a little prayer of thanks for being given the opportunity). But very often we would just talk for a while.  I would ask about how they were doing; they would tell me stories from their lives before they became homeless, or ask about how my son was.  Sometimes we just made jokes and talked about whatever insanity was going on in the world at the time.  On many occasions one or several of them would cheer me up when I was having a bad time, and offer advice.  I moved away over three years ago, and I still miss all of them–really miss them.

Of course, my relationship with David (the man I loved and lost to AIDS in 1990–the man about whom I wrote Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days) probably has something to do with my feelings about people who are homeless.  He had been homeless for a short time before I met him.  I suppose I always see him in the other people I’ve met who are on the street, and it’s easy to apply the love I had for him to them.  And when I hear about a person like Dennis Cardiff, who would have been a real friend to David too, it makes me happy–really happy.

I hope you’ll visit Dennis’ blog.  As far as role-models go (at least as far as I can tell from reading his blog), you can’t do much better.

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Understood

Early on in the book, I write about one of my first clients, Margaret–“a frail crack addict who really–like so many of the others–wanted to be liked.”  She was a tiny, sweet, energetic little thing who was really happy and excited to be getting a room in a crummy SRO hotel, and to be going out shopping with me to get a few things to make it more comfortable.  She passed away shortly afterwards.

That part about “wanting to be liked”–wanting to be understood as being someone who was more than the stereotypical image that many of us have of being a “crackhead,” or a “drug addict”, or a “homeless person”–is an important part of the book.  It was absolutely true of David, who, as far as I can tell, had very rarely in his life had a sense of being understood beyond those and a few other labels (one of the last of them, of course, being “junkie with AIDS”).

Almost without exception, the people I worked with (David included, obviously) always seemed very happy when they were given a chance to talk about their lives outside of those labels, their childhoods, their interests, their dreams…anything, really.  Something in them seemed to change when they realized that someone actually wanted to hear their stories, or when someone looked them in the eye, shook their hands, and asked them about themselves beyond the necessities of the paperwork.

Even now, when my son gives some money to a homeless person on the street, I tell him to look him or her in the eye and, at the very least, say a few words–let him or her know that he actually SEES them.

That’s why the Animals’ “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” is on the playlist for Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days.  Here’s the link to the song (ignore the suits! 🙂 ):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2FT4FprxDg

(Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days is available at:http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009TV4CE6

Shelter

As Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From the Storm” is on the book’s playlist, and as it’s so in keeping with recent events up north, I was going to post a link to it here today.  However, I’m not able to find a link to a Dylan version of the song (I’m guessing it’s a copyright thing).  The song–particularly its opening lines–is one of quite a few that remind me of my time with David, particularly the first few weeks after we met, and also just in general of the AIDS epidemic at the time in New York:

“Twas in another lifetime/One of toil and blood,/When blackness was a virtue/The road was full of mud./I came in from the wilderness,/A creature void of form./’Come in,’ she said, ‘I’ll give you/Shelter from the storm…/In a world of steel-eyed death and men who are fighting to be warm/’Come in,’ she said,’I’ll give you/Shelter from the storm…”

As his caseworker, it was my job to find David, who was homeless at the time, a place to live.  What I didn’t know on that day when he first walked into my office– strung-out, wet, feverish, and just about at the end of his rope, I think–was that I would be sharing that shelter with him until the day he died, eight months later.

1989 does seem like another lifetime now.

(Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days can be found on Amazon.com at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009TV4CE6.)

Jesus, and Loving a Heroin Addict With AIDS

I won’t be posting many (if any) more excerpts from Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days here, for the all-too-obvious reason that I’d like people to buy the book.  But I did want to post this excerpt:

Except for when I was a child growing up in a very Catholic family, I’ve never been a ‘religious’ person in the traditional sense…

Recently, however, I’ve become a big fan of Jesus—not Jesus the Son of God, not Jesus, product of the Virgin Birth, not the bloodied caricature in gaudy prints on people’s walls, and certainly not the holy battering-ram used by those who chatter on about their personal relationships with him while at the same time using his image to justify the self-righteous, intolerant, and breathtakingly cruel behavior that he tried so hard to get people to change—but Jesus the man, the teacher.

Growing up, in church and Sunday school and elsewhere, I’d heard phrases like ‘God is love,’ and ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’, and ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged,’ and ‘Blessed are the merciful,’ so often, and from so many hypocrites, that the words, and the things that Jesus actually tried to teach, became nothing more than empty slogans that I no longer even heard.

But I’ve begun to hear them again, and to understand what Jesus, the man, so desperately and ultimately in such futility tried to teach.  A short time ago I was having a discussion with a man who had made a comment to the effect that the homeless should just help themselves.  Thinking of David, and of all the other people I’d met and worked with over the years who had found themselves desperate and with nothing left that would be considered valuable in this world, I tried to tell the man that, once someone reaches that state of having nothing, it becomes almost impossible for him to help himself.  Those people—the despised, the sick, the ones driven by circumstances to desperate acts—are the ones with whom Jesus would have wanted to spend his time, and are the ones to whom he felt God’s love should be channeled through those who have the means to do so.  It’s those who have the advantages of wealth, education, health, and decent childhoods in which love was freely given, and who nevertheless refuse to help those without those advantages and think of them as inferior and unworthy, whom Jesus would, perhaps, despise, if he ever despised anyone.

People have sometimes told me that I had “compassion” for David.  I tell them that compassion had nothing to do with it—I loved him, loved spending time with him, couldn’t imagine how I could go on living my life once he was gone…

…Yet perhaps it was the fact that, by some twist of fate or destiny, he found someone who loved him unconditionally, loved him as he should have been loved from the beginning, when he had reached that point of having nothing, that helped give him what he needed to find his better self.  He must have known that it was there, as I always did, but maybe if he had been left alone and with nothing in those last few months he would not have been able to reach it in time.

Jesus, the man, the teacher, would have loved David, and he would have loved that I loved David too.  That, in itself, is enough to make me a fan.”

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