We all long, at any age, to feel that true Christmas spirit in our hearts. However, even when we’re crowded around familiar faces, often we still feel alone and apart. It’s that brief smile from a friend, a warm hug from a significant other or the spontaneous compliment from our family that brings us validation in ourselves and our place in this world.
That was true of Fernando, a 65yo homeless man of 6 years, who was settling in for the night underneath the Ogilvie Train station viaduct. All he had was a piece of cardboard and a thin white sheet to sleep on and he did it without complaint. Although with the beautiful donations of others, he accepted several blankets, a sleeping bag and warmers for the night. His palpable sigh of relief while tucking into a warmer, softer bedroll was followed by a long handshake and thank you. As I walked away, he had already fallen into a peaceful sleep.
When we came upon Marshal, a 26yo homeless man of 3 years, he showed us his badly mangled hand that he had bandaged with scotch tape. With the freezing temperatures and festering infection, the tape scraps were now coagulated within the deep wounds causing him to lose mobility in his fingers. In addition to cleaning out the gashes and applying antibiotic cream and fresh bandages, he took a fresh pair of thick gloves and two weeks’ worth of medical supplies. Marshal’s expression changed from one of uncertainty if he’d be able to keep his fingers and hand from amputation, towards an incremental hopefulness that they’ll heal despite living on the streets. The full blessings came when he received blankets, sleeping bags and a tent. This upsurge to his quality and standard of living from desperateness and harshness on the way to healing and comfort was extraordinary. As we parted, he wished me a very Merry Christmas and hugged me as if we were lifelong friends.
On the corner of West Jackson and South Franklin in the doorway of the City Colleges of Chicago Building, two long term homeless were properly bundled for the night. Nevertheless, John had a plea for help as his leg was severely infected. Like many, we cleaned the wound, applied antibiotics and bandaged it up while leaving supplies for care. John is an example that out of suffering emerges a strong soul. Another long term friend, Odella, was also tucked in for the night but was excited to get some more blankets and new winter boots. She was particularly excited about the red blanket as it was ‘Christmasee’ and the new black boots that she’ll wear on Christmas Eve to one of the soup kitchens for dinner.
We assisted about 80 homeless on streets of Chicago this week bringing the 2016 year total to around 1,350 men, women and children. As I think back to the past year, we aided children as young as 9 and as old as 87 in temperatures ranged from -30 below to over 102 degrees. Our concentration over the past 12 months evolved from concentrating on medical issues to hunger to comfort to addressing breaks in an individual’s dignity. I am equally as proud of the volume of work we collectively did as the manner in to which we did it.
In our communal efforts to help those most in need over this past year, we have truly embodied what it means to both feel compassion and reach down to lift up those who have fallen. It is wonderful to believe in the magic of Christmas as it waves a magic wand over this world and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.
Merry Christmas my friends; and thank you for contributing to this Incremental Road to Grace!
All these blessings are being provided for by the immense generosity of people like Lisa Swiontek, Ericka Godbey Fannon, Amy Orrick Hasty, Todd Hasty, Danell Culkin, Jean Grys, Jamie Agront, Kim Mace, Sara Sanders, Gilly Fealy, Jacob Fraser, Connie Duden, Alecia Rahn-Blakeslee, Annie Deutschmann, Cindy Hewett, Jim Levesque, Jason Torres, Darryl Hom, Jim Nadenbush, Jim Eubanks, Tom Itschner, Janet Culkin, Julie McElwee, Amanda Winne Fritz, Stacey Smith Kelley, Jon Hill, Andrea Pescaglia Schade, Allen Estes, Monica Garman Arseneau, Chad Arseneau, Ronda Flint Dulbandzhyan and everyone that’s donated and sent along encouraging words.