For the season of Lent the other YAVs and I are keeping a thankfulness journal, where we write down a few things every day that we are thankful for. This helps up focus on the positive parts of each day and reminds us to be grateful for all of the small things that we all often take for granted. I’ve been thinking about this about this for a while and am trying to change my perspective by being grateful for all of the new experiences I’m having in Boston.
Sometimes it’s easy to fall into patterns of feeling lonely and out of place, unsure, and thinking about all of the things we disagree with or don’t like. Often I feel lonely and homesick for friends and family, familiarity and consistency; sometimes it can be hard to get excited about my independent work on the computer all day; and it can be hard to live in an experiment someone else designed feeling like decisions are being made for me. And when I’m preoccupied with and distracted by this perspective it’s hard to acknowledge and take advantage of the exciting work and opportunities I have here.
Several recent events have really made me reevaluate and refocus my perspective about what I am grateful for. The first was a trip to the state house for the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless legislative action day. People from the coalition, other nonprofits, and state representatives spoke about the bill they are trying to pass. It would allocate more money to rent voucher programs, get families into stable housing faster, and provide more shelters and services specifically for young adults– all things that should be common sense. Then several people experiencing homeless shared a little about their lives, and by the end there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
Young adults, all in their early 20’s, told stories about how they became homeless (parents who kicked them out at 18, being abused, and death or incarceration of parents were common themes), what they have been through since, what their living conditions are now, and how the legislation would help them. All of them talked about wanting to be treated like a human, not as some second-class thing that doesn’t deserve respect or basic human rights.
One young woman talked about taking showers in gas station bathrooms and how it hurts when people give her dirty looks. A young man talked about sleeping outside in a tent with friends by a train station (in Massachusetts winter, where it is rarely over 20 degrees.) Another young woman, who is now living with family and in college and working, talked about how she wanted a pillow—just a pillow—to call her own, and the mental safety and security that goes along with having a roof over one’s head. A young mother (22– my age) cried telling the story about living with her newborn baby either the train station or the emergency room, and when she tried to apply for housing and services they wanted to take away her son. Another mother talked about wanting a house, and the stability it provides, for her 10 year old daughter. They live in a motel, with no kitchen to cook in or open space for her daughter to play. It was heart-wrenching as she explained that she would skip meals to make sure her daughter could eat, and then she would stay up all night worrying about how they are going to get by.
All of the speakers were amazingly brave, sharing stories they are not proud of but are vitally important and need to be heard. Everyone listening was inspired and moved; parents and children, retired women and college students, people who have been fortunate enough to have a stable and loving family and a safe place to live their whole lives and people who have felt the fear and anxiety of not having a place to sleep at night, of not having a pillow to call their own.
There was no dry eye, no unmoved heart, and no uninspired mind; everyone left with more purpose, passion, and anger than when they entered.
We left and spoke with representatives’ aids about why HB 135 needs to pass, about how important homelessness is to us, and how completely unacceptable it is in one of the richest states (technically a commonwealth) in the richest country on earth. This legislative action day was a great learning experience about local activism and about real issues that real people face on a daily basis, as well as a reorienting experience about what is truly important in life.
I’ve never been so grateful for my pillow.