In my Junior year I was lost. It happens a lot. I stand there and I’m like shoot what am I gonna do; it happened again. For me, sometimes this means spending more time alone or finding community service to do. When I volunteer I get to talk to people who are going through tough times as well; although maybe minor in comparison it reminds me we that we all go through things, no matter how big or small, and I get to work with people who are all here for something larger than themselves, it reminds me that life’s about something bigger, and to not get bogged down in the ‘how’ or the ‘what’ or the ‘me’ or the ‘he/she/it/they,’ to focus on something bigger and better. One morning, I went to a local church that serves breakfast and lunch everyday and a large meal on Sundays to homeless people within the Boston area.
I came in expecting I’d have a good experience and I’d be on my way out. I was wrong. First of all, it took a very very long time to find the place. It was in a basement that you had to get to by an underground door that was not visible on the street level. It was difficult to find and when I did find it there was no one there. I wondered if this was a sketchy Craigslist ad, but I didn’t find it on there. I found it on an online volunteer website and the organizer emailed me the night before so I decided to give it some time and trust it was legitimate. After about a half an hour, we got in. Turns out, we went to the wrong building, through the wrong door. Once we got in there were a number of us in line to help prepare and pass out food.
Every Sunday this church sets up a nice room for people to eat at; they decorate the tables and bring out 5 course meals. It’s a way to humanize everyone and show them that they too deserve and need something nice, as we all do.
We started to pass out the food and get the tables ready: we put out utensils, cups and coffee at each table. The staff told us to make sure ‘we were ready, the rush is pretty intense.’ I didn’t know what to expect. Doors opened at 8 AM and we got there around 5 AM. I was responsible for passing out bread as guests left. We got everyone fed and it was time to go.
Some people were traveling without a place to go and heard this place offers food, others were in the neighborhood and saw it on their way downtown and most had been coming to eat at this church for years, every single Sunday. For some, it was a place they got their weeks worth of food in. On the way out I told everyone, ‘bye! Have a good day!’ One guy caught me off guard, he was carrying a sleeping bag and had his body huddled in blanket. I wondered how he was going to get up the stairs on the way out from the basement so I decided to say hello. Before I could offer help he quickly said ‘bye.’ Confused I said, ‘bye! Stay safe!’ Before I could say, ‘stay warm,’ because it was 30 degrees and snowing in Boston, he stopped me. He looked at me and said, ‘Me? Stay safe? No. You’re the one who needs to be safe. I’ve lived on the same corner for 13 years, nothing will happen to me. You come by my corner, you need to stay safe.’
‘Stay…warm’…I mumbled with a wave and a smile. He turned and was on his way out. I continued to give bread, but something in my head kept repeating what he had said. I came here to volunteer because I was feeling unstable and wasn’t feeling like myself. I did community service back home and this was my way of feeling closer to home, some form of peace and purpose. I’ve seen community service as my refuge, a place I feel safe, but sometimes you need to find a safe place within yourself in order to find a safe place in the world. Things can be chaotic when we ourselves are filled with chaos. If you are not hurt, you will not do harm. If you are hurt, you will hurt others. You have to find your own sleeping bag, your own blankey inside of you, a place that brings you comfort and happiness no matter where you are at in your life, no matter how dark or cold it may be, you need to find light and safety within yourself. It’s the only way to ‘stay safe’ sometimes. If you are happy within, it will radiate on the outside. If you don’t like where you’re at, change the channel. If you are not happy, change the channel. If you need a way out, change the channel.
You don’t need to have everything together on the outside, but strive to feel good on the inside, that’s where true happiness lies. That’s where you ‘will be safe,’ no matter how cold or dark things get; if you can find light within you, it’ll radiate on every corner around you.