Lying on my mat that first evening, I thought of my family and friends. Doing my best to imagine what it would be like if I were actually homeless, I was struck by how separated I was from my loved ones. They carry on with their lives, working, living indoors, connected to their family and friends. Immediate barriers of social convention now in place (unshowered, no home to show for yourself, the shame of being homeless). And not only do you likely not see your family and friends, but also many are likely left with regrets or painful memories of how they came to be separated from their families. Divorce, domestic abuse, drugs, alcohol, rejection, being disowned, being given up on. Many homeless individuals speak of having children or siblings they are no longer in contact with or do not get along with. Yes, it’s uncomfortable sleeping outside, but worse I would think is the feeling of being outside of the connections that were once central to your life, left with regrets of mishandling situations and the pain of rejection. The continued message from someone once called a friend, now implicitly saying by their absence, “I don’t want you around me.”
Our mutual friend Stacy is a hospital chaplain who also volunteers with an organization called the Ignatian Spirituality Project www.ignatianspiritualityproject.org. They take small groups of homeless individuals on weekend retreats offering a supportive and spiritually enriching community of friends. I feel this gesture of hospitality and presence, setting aside intentional time with those often set apart from our society is beautiful. I was telling Stacy about my reflections above and she noted that in the sharing time on their retreats, the women speak of the many difficulties of being homeless, but the real pain is almost always about broken relationships and separation from loved ones. This is where the heart of their pain is, the time in their stories when the tears come to the surface. Take my bed, my money, a warm room to stay in, my shower, my job, but my family? Those dearest to me? Don’t take them.