Hearing The Homeless And Encountering Love
Posted by Megha Sahgal on Sep 16, 2013
Guri graciously led us in a sandwich making assembly line, and we all managed to make about 40 sandwiches to hand out. After stuffing the sandwiches, fresh fruit, drinks, and chocolate chip granola bars in brown bags, we divided into two teams to distribute the lunches to people in Peoples' Park and downtown Berkeley. We definitely had some sweet and very memorable interactions.
Jamie shares, "Guri and i had the great pleasure of meeting Michael at People's Park. Michael immediately introduced us to Red Dog, his calm and curious pit bull, and said, with a twinkle in his eye, "I'm not like other homeless people." He was wearing beige knee-length shorts, a grey hoodie, and a red baseball cap that matched his long red goatee-beard that touched down to his mid-chest. He reminded me of a friend from college—friendly, mischievous, with a child-like grin, and smelling of alcohol and earth. We asked him what that meant—"not like other homeless people"—and he asked, "You got five minutes?" We did. He led us down the street, where we met a few other folks from the community along the way... like Elizabeth who was searching the sidewalk for her lost cigar butt, but managed to stop long enough to chat with us and take a lunch and complement my necklace.
Then we arrived—to Michael's prized possession—a small community garden, lovingly planted in a 3' by 8' patch of soil in the middle of the sidewalk, on the corner of Dwight way and Telegraph. We were astounded! Blooming green plants, cucumbers, pumpkins, and even a small fake palm tree—all nestled proudly in the crowded city street. Michael explained that God told him in a dream to plant a garden, and so he did. Along the way, many friends and strangers have helped. They've donated plants, given him seed, and the construction workers down the street had even cut pieces of plastic pipe for Michael to use to support taller plants. Michael pointed proudly to two other small plots of earth nearby, which he is working on developing into additional gardens. They were marked by a modest sign that read, "Dwight way community garden is growing! Please help by donating soil, plants, seed, water."
Michael also showed us how nice and clean the sidewalk is near the garden, saying, "I sweep this every day; it's my living room." We were amazed and inspired that this man has put so much love into this small corner of the world that he calls "home." Here he is—struggling with life, struggling with addiction—and yet pouring his heart and soul into these few small plots of earth. And, after meeting person after person living on the street without a home, we were struck by the fact that not a single one of them was "like other homeless people." Each one was unique—with their own passions, desires, needs, and pain—just like us."
At the other end of town, in downtown Berkeley, Katie and I came across Preston the Pastor, a 56 year old social activist, among many other titles. When we approached him, he was standing by his cart, speaking to the manager of the CVS, and offered them both a sandwich. Preston took one while the CVS manager left quickly to run an errand and told us, "He's a great guy, make sure you talk to him."
And that we did! Preston soon started to tell us his story -- his mother started to take him to Black Panther Party meetings in the 60s, how his values were greatly influenced by their organizing, finding the Lord, and his love for humanity. He also shared that he was deeply involved and moved by the Occupy Oakland movement, and was just recently participating in a protest to keep the Berkeley post office open.
Preston then handed us some postcards with pictures of the encampment at the post office. I randomly asked him if he could share his greatest life lesson learned and lived, and he replied, "it starts with a W and ends with a M" -- wisdom to know that at the intersection of the emotional and logical comes insight. And then he asked all of us to close our eyes and take three deep breaths. On the last breath he told us to envision a time when we felt great joy, and to raise our thumbs when we remembered it. Upon opening our eyes, each of us had a smile on our faces. Magical blessings do indeed abound in people, places and special interactions like these. He told us how he goes through this exercise every time he has to make an important decision -- in this way, he ensures that every action originates from a soft, loving and joyful place.
Preston then told us that this technique has really helped him to cope with his co-occurring disorder; he had a hard time accepting that he was born with the mental illness component of this disorder, but over the years has learned to completely accept and love himself. It was inspiring and heartwarming to hear that he walks the streets to consciously affirm and help others accept their own mental illnesses/diagnoses. That they are ok, and more than ok. The gift of accepting oneself can be powerful and moving, as seen by his life's embodiment and dedication to social justice. And then, this feeling of love gave birth to him giving us parting gifts of some sage he had picked. He instructed us to dry out the sage, and asked us, "Got any change you could spare?" and then he laughed saying, "That's right, you gave me a sandwich. Never mind."
After meeting a diverse medley of people, I think all of us came out of the experience of deep listening and receiving, feeling more connected, softer in our hearts, and inspired in the goodness of those who don't have much materially, but so much to share and give, spiritually.