It was a rocky start. Life off the streets took a whole lot of getting used to. Meeting the food and shelter requirements that used to make up his whole day, were no longer there. It was as if literally overnight Bert’s previous existence had no meaning. When I couldn’t wrap my mind around why this was hard instead of it being luxurious, I tried to imagine if I was suddenly homeless; I would have some issues adapting to my new reality no doubt. A lot of them actually. So I guess it should’ve come as no surprise that he too had some issues adapting to his new reality. It took days before he could be coerced into showering. This perplexed me. I imagine a hot shower feeling like pure heaven, washing away months, even years, worth of dirt. How great soapy lather would feel. I couldn’t imagine not wanting to take immediate advantage of that. But this wasn’t my life and I didn’t have to understand it but I wanted to. If I was suddenly homeless it would likely be days before I could accept that showering was no longer a part of my day to day. So in reality our worlds were just inverted. When it was hard to understand or I felt myself getting frustrated or judgmental it was my love for Bert that kept me seeking to understand.
Bert is a survivor. That is who he is. Being homeless or housed was not who he was, but rather how he was. Survivors survive. And adapt. And grow. And change. Sometimes before your very eyes. And sometimes you find yourself growing as a result.
Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. It still felt weird having an exact address to pick him up at, and a phone I could call when I wanted to. There didn’t have to be anything pressing or urgent for him to call me anymore. It was just a new way of being able to do things and it took awhile for that to feel normal for both of us.
Moments come and go, but occasionally you are blessed with one that will remain imprinted on your heart; frozen in time.
I pulled up to his residence like I had so many times before, to pick him up for my monthly Kaleo prayer night that he liked to attend. Out the door walked this man in a button up shirt, a blazer clearly from another time, clean jeans and dress shoes. Then this stranger opened the door to my vehicle. I would never have recognized the man who stood before me, beaming. Never had I seen such a transformation. He walked with confidence. He smelled of cologne. The signature beard G-O-N-E.
I could feel my tears coming, but quickly swallowed the lump in my throat. Something told me this was not the time. While I loved him no more when he was showered and well groomed than I did when he lived on the streets and wasn’t – I couldn’t help but feel so proud of him. He was proud of himself and witnessing that, is pride on a whole new level. This is what self care looked like. This is what getting eight hours of sleep in a bed and three square meals a day looked like. Even though I felt all those things I didn’t share them then, because I knew that night was all about me, for him.
Bert came to almost all of my prayer nights. Some nights he could barely stand up straight. Some nights he wanted prayer, but mostly he didn’t. He came in varying stages of sobriety and tried to be helpful; he set up tables and chairs and offered to carry all the heavy things. Tonight he was not just well intentioned. Tonight he did all the things my dear grandfather would have done for me if he was still alive. Tonight he came to watch me in my element because he was proud of me. Tonight he came to give back to the daughter he never had. So I made the tears go away until a later day….
Tonight wasn’t about me being proud of him it was all about him being proud of me.
To be continued…
*written with permission