Friday, August 16, 2013

Lessons Learned

The metaphor which I feels works out best for what my experience has been like living, working and serving in downtown Denver is a pressure cooker. Pressure cooking is an intense, and sometimes dangerous, way to get things done. And, by the end of my year, my meat was surely falling off the bone.

I realized, though, a more productive way to think of it was that lessons were falling off the bone. Lessons, even when costly, can validate just about any experience for me. I knew I'd learned a lot, but I sat myself down and wrote some of the lessons from this last year down. It was a good way to process and validate (and laugh at) the year. 

So, without further ado, here's the slightly edited, and not nearly comprehensive, list. I'm sure I'll be adding to it for years to come:  

What I’ve learned:

· Patience (And that it is both hard earned and given as a gift)

· Expiration dates are very subjective

· About addictions—to substances, to people, to control… 

· Church politics, and of the toxicity which becomes easily involved

· The realities of homelessness 

· Leadership is imperative

· As is a grounded vision (for an organization, for an individual, for a church)

· How to walk through snow and ice (and not bust too often) 

· How to have no control, and not be out of control

· The work to decide on and find self-identity is not work wasted

· How to pour candles

· The importance of feeling safe

· Basics of drug use and the effects of different drugs

· How to make lip balm, lotion bars and soap

· The names of native Coloradan flowers

· The very basics of gardening—and that weeding is cheap therapy

· Burning candles can up the temperature in your room by 2-3 degrees

· Enough random facts about beekeeping and worm farming to sound cultured

· Sometimes the very best thing you can do for someone is make them a cup of tea and listen

· It’s very economical to buy wine in boxed form

· 88 is not as old as you think it is

· Routine smoke/”sunshine” breaks with people 40 years older than you can restore your sanity

· If people refuse the “peace” you offer them, shake the dust off your sandals and move on

· There’s no “fixing” people

· Hospitality is a state of mind

· Ancient mystic Islamic poets can change your life

· Boundaries and learning to say no will give you freedom

· Composting, and that watching the steam rise off of healthy compost on a winter evening is magical

· Being aware of your expectations and that others may have different ones can make all the difference

· Creative work is good for the soul

· Even when you think you shouldn’t have to, ask for what you need

· Be as patient with yourself as you are with others

· How to balance trays and bus tables for 1,000 plus guests

· That a handful of corny jokes will serve you well in many situations

· That not all situations are well suited for “niceness”

· How to break up fights, kick people out and be a bouncer

· That sometimes, breaking up a fight will earn you a best friend

· Mental illness is real and rampant

· The simple act of learning and remembering names can restore personhood

· People are remarkably resilient

· That some of us need to speak up more, and some of us need to shut our mouths every once in a while

· “Follow through” is the key to engagement (and the inverse is true as well)

· People often just want to tell their story and be heard

· It’s ok to cry with strangers

· How to consistently make meals for 10 out of leftovers and expired goods

· Gummy vitamins are not just for children

· Living no more than 2 degrees of separation from the entire homeless population of Denver will be a bit much for your immune system

· Sometimes, you just have to turn off the ringer

· You can live off of less money and with less possessions than you think you can…no matter how little you already have

· Never seeing the sun will make you sad

· Succulent plants are surprisingly not very difficult to kill

· In a pinch you can use electrical cords yanked from the wall to resuscitate someone

· The full moon makes people crazy. Don’t try to understand it, just plan accordingly

· The realities of SS, SSDI, AND and the patterns they create

· Vulnerability is courageous work 

· Gratitude is the gateway to joy and sanity 

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Guesthouse

I've read it at least 10 times this week, 8 or more times out loud for "reflection" at work this week, and I'm still not tired of it. The Guesthouse was a reflection from my first month at work, and it's stuck with me all year. I've had a copy of it on the magnetic board near my desk at home. I read it when one of my housemates was struggling with alcoholism. I read it on some of those Thursdays where I ended my work day with tears--sometimes from pure exhaustion, sometimes from the weight of the stories.  But also, I read it when I brought home a pink rose I picked off the back of a wall on the walk home. Just a couple weeks ago I read it when someone I knew was found a couple days dead in her apartment. 

The Guesthouse is the story of my year. A year of heartbreak after triumph after heartbreak. A year where often hospitality was all I had to give--and where sometimes giving that hospitality took all I had. But, I'm learning, that's what this being human is all about. So, on the eve of my last day, here it is once more: 


This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

(By Rumi)