I was humming “The Rising of the Moon,” today and remembering Saint Padraig’s Days past. Part of it was the entire discordance in my body, the rest of it was a mixture of too much green and random facts about Saint Pats. I had seizures all day, starting directly after the TVC Toastmaster’s Meeting began. This left me exhausted, and my mind was not on the evaluation.
I still did my best, but, instead of baseball I wanted to think about the children i used to know. When I was homeless, at the first shelter I was running under the presumption that there was no joy to be had there, no safety, no happiness, no love. So far this had been proven correct, until I woke up on Saint Patrick’s Day Morn. This was about four years ago, I was all alone in the world. What woke me was a soft bundle of skin clinging to me tightly, crying.
The little girl was blind, and could not tell where her mommy was, and I felt nice and safe. So, sitting up I carefully ran a hand down her back and asked her what her mother’s name was. It was an hour before wake up call, and the girl had just gone to the bathroom, but her mommy had left her there, or so she thought. I put my shoes on and forced my body to move. Once I had my footing we walked to the bathroom, through the snow, my coat wrapped around the girl. I was cold, but, she was smaller and I decided she likely needed it more than I did.
I could hear someone calling, “Maggie?” In the darkness, I could not see but I could hear her. “I hear my Mommy!” The relief filled the child and she wanted to run off, but was afraid because this was their first night at the Shelter and she had fallen a few times, trying to find her mother. We made it to the bathroom, over 500 yards from the main building. Her mother was in tears when she saw her child and scooped her up. “I thought you were gone forever.” They said this in unison. I took my coat, her mother had hers, and wrapped myself in it, creeping back to bed.
I tried to go back to sleep but it was too late for extra rest. Still, I reasoned this wouldn’t be a big deal. They often treated women like garbage there, I am certain they still do. This day was different, if you could ignore the fact that the men had a restroom inside the main building and did not have to go outside with wet hair, they even had six toilets instead of just two and theirs was accessible. I couldn’t ignore it but was told if I so much as protested I would be out with no shelter.
When we cleared the floor, set the tables and had our breakfast, a bowl of sugary cereal each, the children came in. They rarely got breakfast, unless someone saved it for them, first come first serve, and children without a home are just as reticent to leave their warm beds as those with. I often saved my cereal for a child, and this morning I presented it to Maggie, after it turned out there was no more food. She recognized my voice and told her mother I was the nice lady who had saved her. I smiled for the first time, since losing my home. For a moment I didn’t hurt so much either. Then my stomach started whining at me, it wasn’t hungry it was just the sheer amount of allergens I had to eat in order to not die. The knife’s edge I walked on had become narrower and more harrowing.
I pulled on the very shirt I wore today, one of the few I managed to salvage. It was my only green at that point. I let my hair down, liking how it felt. I felt pretty again, a first since my back injury and homelessness. I wanted to dance, though I did not trust my legs for that. Then the staff asked for volunteers to run arts and crafts. The adults all grumbled, no one wanted to bother with the kids. I raised my hand. I have this strange reaction to chances to do things, I usually say yes.
There were acrylic paints, glitter glues, glitter, glue, and a lot of paper. I was given the one pair of scissors and we set out to work. Maggie was the first to want to try something, so, I helped her cut out clover and let her smear the glue all over the paper. She was having a blast. I remember her laughter, “It’s gooey!” Her mother watched, but less carefully since I had returned her unharmed without knowing either of them. Another girl came over, then a boy, and they made green paper chains, then, on white paper we painted leprechauns. Soon, the entire building was covered in green.
That smile kept returning too. After the first chain was hung, a few of the men began to pin the decorations, growling out playfully, “We need more green over here.” Smiling as one of the kids ran a decoration over, the smiles started to spread. By the time the annual news cameras came, filming us just to show how great the people who run the place are everyone was smiling. I remember the reporter, a short man with a puce tie, muttering, “Why are they so damned happy? Don’t they know they are homeless?”
As we sat down, a kind man bringing me a plate as I had begun to fall over again I realized why I was happy. I had stopped focusing for one day on my homelessness, and had instead focused on making someone else happy. I wanted to make sure that those kids had a happy day. I wanted to see their smiles. It was cold out, snowing, but inside the warmth of family and friends was found. I also had the first meal that was not going to make me sick since arriving there. Corned Beef with a side of freshly mashed potatoes. There was enough for everyone, a rarity there. I even was allowed seconds on the meat and potatoes.
I hid from the camera, this was helped by the smile that would not abate, I could not stop grinning. After all, the children were laughing, our temporary home felt like a home for once and until it was time to sleep no one fought, there was no need to try to steal food, and we were all content. The next morning there was no green, just the cold snow. There was too little food once more and it all went back to being a gray existence, dull and painful. Except, that I still felt happy.
My happiness was not permanent, yet, my acceptance that I could feel happiness made it easier to exist in a state of contentment. Without that day, I might very well have been too depressed to fight for survival a month later, when I nearly froze to death. That shelter is a special hell, for those in need, for those who no one cares enough about. It is not up to code, safe, and they do not try to make you safe or happy. It was merely a whim that lead to that one day, a kindness so rarely given.
As more and more families lose their homes, they head to shelters just like that one. Today, I remembered my own agony as I fondled a bit of green paint hidden just inside my sleeve, the paint stain is left over from that day. I too considered why I kept the shirt, and I realized despite it being a bit uncomfortable, always too warm , I keep it because this shirt has memories attached. It isn’t just the shade of green that sets my hair afire, smooths my skin, and makes me feel absolutely beautiful. The beauty I feel is instead in the subconscious associations with happiness.
When you have nothing, you still have your soul, your life, and the ability to love.
Happy Saint Padraig’s Day. May the road rise to meet you, your friends and family greet you, and love fill your heart today.
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