A Gift of Love (in a Different Kind of Package)
By Anon in Portland:
I have learned about love from many special beings in my life: my parents, extended family, my children, friends, significant others, teachers and mentors. I have learned that I am loved by the Universe as a child of the stars and I have felt that awesome sense of universal love for all beings and for creation itself within my own heart while praying, in meditation, or in nature. What I never expected, though, was how much I would learn about love from a man who lived on the streets of Portland.
When we met he was at an extreme low point in his already tragic life. Stripped of everything he owned, everything that was important to him (except his companion animals), an amputee without a wheelchair, without ID, without money, without extra clothing, without a safe place to lay his head at night. Sometimes the Universe says, “Here you go, child. A gift”, and we are frightened or distracted, disinterested or confused, angry or dismissive, and we stamp our feet or turn our heads away and say, ‘No. No thank you. That’s not for me.” But sometimes there’s this quiet voice in our heads (or maybe it’s a stirring in our hearts?) that says, ‘Listen. There is something here for you. Trust.”
What can I say? I accepted the invitation against all reason and common sense and in so doing received one of the most profound gifts of my life - my friend M.
He was gruff. He swore. He threatened people. He scared people. He got into fights. He smoked constantly. Cigarettes and cannabis. He had been in prison. He had been in a gang. He had been addicted to meth. He suffered from anxiety, delusions, and bouts of extreme agitation and suicidality. He got tossed out of housing for his explosive episodes.
He was sweet. He was tender. He was grateful. He was honest. He was unbelievably resilient and courageous. He spoke tenderly about the woman who adopted him, the little sister he protected, how his kids used to sleep in bed with him when they were cold or scared. He was a loyal friend to many, including a friend sick with cancer. He was brilliant at helping to get other houseless folks off the street and into recovery. He was a fierce advocate for the houseless. People that knew the side of him that I loved used to say, “He has such a big heart.”
He was vulnerable with me in ways some of my closest and longest-standing friends have never been. Sitting on the sidewalk with him, sharing food, listening to his stories, my hands filthy from petting the dogs, planning a strategy what needed to get done that week to get his needs met, chatting on the phone like old friends, laughing, sharing a hug, I felt truly happy. I felt more like my authentic self in those times with M than in other places in my life because, well, there was absolutely no reason at all to be anything other than my real self. He accepted me exactly as I was. What a gift. No matter what tremendous difficulties were going on his life, he always asked me how I was doing and offered to help in whatever ways he felt he could. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that if I or anyone I loved was ever in danger, that man would have shown up like a superhero.
Yes, he blew things up that I had worked tirelessly for months to set up for him because of fear and overwhelm. “I’m a piece of shit”, he would state loudly after a bus driver wouldn’t stop to let him board or a cop would kick him out of a doorway. Hospitals, waiting rooms, confined spaces, hotel rooms...all became unbearable after a certain amount of time. One day, after I had taken time off work to get him to a medical appointment at a small clinic, he freaked out and started wheeling himself out of there. It took some gentle reassurance and understanding that day, along with, “Let’s make sure you get what you need today. Please. We came all this way. Everything’s going to be o.k.” but he did stay.
I could withstand his rages by just listening, breathing, holding a safe space. He would curse and raise his voice and gesticulate and then when it was all over, calmly say, “Thank you for listening to me. I was just really mad. I love you, girl”. But I knew that most of the rest of the world was not going to stand for that kind of behavior and I worried about him. A lot. Some nights, when it was very cold and windy or very wet and I knew he was in a doorway somewhere I would go to my car, put my head on the steering wheel, and sob. I sobbed for him and for all of the men and women and children I knew were sleeping on the streets in this wealthy country where we toss people away as though they have no intrinsic value. As though they are not also children of God and of the Universe.
Over time, it all became too much for me to bear. I wasn’t able to manage my own emotions and feelings of dread with his monthly suicide threats. I wasn’t sleeping well. I felt anxious far too often. The guilt I felt in saying goodbye was deep. The loss I felt was intense. There are very few neighborhoods in this town that don’t remind me of my friend. This is where I brought him an extra blanket. This is where I brought him medicine when he was sick. This is the hotel I helped him move in and out of. This is where I walked the dogs. I think about him, still, every single day. I know from a mutual friend that he’s doing pretty well. Slowing down a bit, but some good things are coming to pass. I can see his beautiful blue eyes, hear his voice saying, “Thank you for helping me. I love you.” I think he knows how much I still love him, too.
I took a break for awhile from serving the houseless community. I knew I had to learn how to love without taking on the pains of my friends as my own because in doing so I was of no use to them. If I fall apart I will not be able to stand by them in solidarity. I am beyond grateful that I found the Hard Times Supper and began volunteering there and that I am continuing to be involved with BeaconPDX. I have new friends - both housed and unhoused - and as a part of a community rather than out there on my own, I know that I will continue to say “yes” when the Universe says, “Here you go, child. A gift.”