Like a flooded river running off the side of a cliff, a waterfall engulfing everything underneath. A flood of emotions. I used to have to write to stay alive. I used to bottle it all up inside and then unleash it all on the paper. All the things I couldn’t say. All the things I couldn’t do. All the things that were only hopes and dreams and wishes of what could be. I only had them on paper. Now I have them in reality. What I thought could never be is HERE.
The breaking point, just behind me. So glad I lived through it. When everything felt wrong and nothing was going right. It was only just the beginning. I’m not quite sure how things began to change, but they did. One small action at a time. And now, I’m here. Patience and trust, my only friends at times.
I’m finding that this whole being me thing is working out for the best. Things falling into place with amazing surprises along the way. No, it’s not easy most of the time, but it feels right. When you find yourself, and learn to love yourself. Just as you are. Then things begin to change.
Sometimes I begin to think that my waterfall is gone. The water dried up after so many years. No emotions left to give. But then I remember that the water is still there. Only downstream from where it used to be, in another phase of the journey. Making its way down the lazy river, not knowing what’s just ahead.
Recently I have felt as though all of my friends have grown up. And left me a youth.
I get that we’re all still the same age. And realistically I’m not a youth anymore. But.
I don’t have kids like many of them. In fact, I’m not married. Nor have I been within a mile and a half of “marriage”. Too, it’s been a long while since I’ve had a serious relationship. This arena of my life just isn’t where my focus has been or even where I feel like it’s going.
That’s okay. But.
There comes that awkward time in life when all of your friends get married. All of your friends have kids. Or the ones that aren’t doing those things feel huge societal pressures to be doing them. It starts to consume their lives. It’s all they can think or talk about. And pretty soon they begin getting depressed when they reach a certain age and these things haven’t happened. And if you’re not pursuing these same things, it can feel like your friends are slipping away. Into the family trance or into the obsession of family life.
And that’s okay. Friends grow. Sometimes apart. But.
That doesn’t have to be the definition of growing up. Maturity should not be defined on marital or parenthood life stages. There’s other ways to grow in life. No matter what you do, sometimes it just seems that as you get older, life gets lonelier. Even when things get lonely, and you have less in common with other people, stay strong. Know that the vision for your own life doesn’t have to be influenced by others.
If these things are what you were created for, then by all means, go for them. But if it’s not, don’t for one second believe that your own story must be similar to everyone around you.
As you get older, you will have the wonderful opportunity to watch your friends grow in all sorts of areas. Sometimes you’ll share these experiences with them. Other times they will be something completely foreign to you. The important part is that you support your friends as they go through these experiences. That you love them in and during this growth. And that you encourage them to keep growing. Not towards what you personally want for them, but towards what you know is their own personal call. Sometimes it’s hard. Because sometimes it means you’re encouraging people to leave you. But you must be okay.
Though you may feel lonelier, really you are in much greater company when you encourage people to fulfill their own missions. Be thankful, without hearing a thanks from them. Rest assured in knowing that you have helped someone else fulfill their own life. And, hopefully, if you’re doing it right, you’ll fulfill your own life in the process.
If you’re the one struggling because your life isn’t achieving those benchmarks fast enough, try to be okay without them. Daily affirm to yourself the reason why you are here. Focus on what you can do to be happy now. Focus on becoming the person that you should be with or without the presence of a significant other. Use your time now to be the very best that you can be. In doing so, you’ll probably be surprised with the wonderful things that come into your life. Whether they are new friends, new experiences, growth or even that highly sought after loved one.
No matter what comes, know it’s all okay. Because you tried your best. Because you fulfilled your own mission. Because you grew.
I do not know Phyllis M. Frank personally. But I am more than honored to be in her company. Today, I officially learned that the Nashville Coalition for the Homeless is presenting me with the 2011 Phyllis Frank Volunteer of the Year Award. Below is my response with receiving this undeserved honor.
I guess my journey here really began when I was in the 8th grade. I must have been about 13 years old. You remember that age of awkwardness. Still makes me cringe to think of it.
Well when I was 13, I was struggling severely to find my place in this world. I may have just been a child, but it didn’t feel that way back then. This was a time of coming of age that would end up lasting a decade… finding out who I was, where I belonged, and most importantly, why I belonged. At the time, I couldn’t find a reason why I fit in anywhere. At the time, it felt like my pain was never ending, and that life was just too much pressure to handle. I can almost laugh about it now, but back then – it was much different. Back then, it was life and death.
Around this same time, I began noticing the people that I saw on the side of the streets. These homeless people that I had heard labeled as “outsiders” or “unwanted” by many grownups. In many ways, I felt like an outcast too, so I wanted to know who exactly these others were. When I really began to look for the first time, I could tell that these people were in the midst of their own struggle. And before long, I learned by constant observance that we all have our own battles in this life.
Because of that learning, I, during 8th grade, submitted a poem titled “The Man Without a Home” into a writing contest that my teacher had suggested that I enter. The poem that I wrote, though telling a story about a man named Leo Chan – who was homeless, actually spoke as much about myself as it did about that fictional character named Leo.
You see, everyone is fighting their own tough battle. And each and every single one of us needs a friend’s, a neighbor’s, a stranger’s help along our way. At the same time, each and every single one of us deserves to give that same help to someone else, too. Our battles are what connect us. Value them, trust them to lead you.
Though it would be much later before I started putting these learnings to any use, I have always since then felt this connection to the homeless. Though I myself have never been homeless – I honestly felt like just about anyone could find themselves homeless should a paycheck fall thru or other unwanted events happen. I have always felt the compelling urgency (whether I acted or not) to help these people because, in an odd way, I felt like I was helping myself. In my heart, I felt as though we belonged to each other.
And still when I look into the eyes of a homeless man or woman today, I see myself. I see pain, I see good, I see heartache, I see joy, I see will, I see perseverance, I see the ability to overcome and to achieve. But most importantly to me, I see a human being. Someone who desires love, just like everyone else on the face of the planet. I see someone who deserves our love. My dream is that somehow I might convey this love to someone.
But, when we look to the heart of the matter, the people giving me this award are the real heroes here. Not me. Janet Rosenberg. Doug Sanders. Judy Tackett. Lindsey and Andrew Krinks. Ingrid McIntyre. Mary Beth Ritchie. Carolyn Cooper. Ron Crowder. Jeannie Alexander. Holly McIndoe. Clifton Harris. There are so many more names. Though you all may not know my name, you are all individuals who I look up to enormously. You are here every day working with all you have just to see a fellow citizen of our community be housed, stay housed and live. What you are doing with every connection, every conversation, every handshake and hug – is letting people know that they are loved. And there is no greater reward that you can give. I look up to each and every one of you more than you know. Each and every time that I spend time with you, I leave being a better person. That is why I keep coming back, and why I will continue coming back. You are the life and love of this community.
And you’re the reason why I believe that we can all work together to find solutions that will end chronic homelessness in our beautifully diverse city. Not only are we helping our neighbors who happen to be without homes, but we are also helping ourselves. Together we grow, together we are better. Though we are all in this world, none of us are of this world. May we remember that we all belong to each other. Not to our homes, not to our cars, not to any earthly possession – but to one another.
I expect that some people will believe that I am naive. They may call me an idealist or a dreamer. But if only we were able to imagine like children again perhaps we would be less restricted by our preconceived notions and knowledge of what we think we can do. Perhaps we could recreate what we think is impossible by discovering what IS possible when we work together.
In my apartment downtown, there still hangs a copy of that poem, “The Man Without a Home,” that I wrote back in 8th grade. It continues to tell the story of a fictional man named Leo Chan, but more it reminds me who I am and why I am here. It emphasizes that we are all in this thing together – though we may not have the same struggles, we each have our own. And together we can help each other get through them. It reminds me that our own battles lead us to one another. We face trials so that we may help someone else through their own.
It still seems crazy to me that I am getting an award for volunteering, especially when it only seems like the natural place for me to be. But I want you all to know what a huge honor this is for me, especially coming from such the amazing people and organizations that you all are. It gives validation in helping me to know that I’m headed in the right direction and a huge motivation to keep pressing forward. I know that I’m not worthy of any recognition of my own – it is only because of others and God that I am here today. So to God be all glory, and hopefully may I be a vessel that he uses.
I thank God every day that I wake up because I know the reason why I am here. It is to love his people and to learn from them. Thank you all.
[thoughts from 2009.]
When you sit in the dark for long enough, your mind begins to play tricks on you.
The wind in the willow tree becomes a rush of men. The raccoons in the bushes are suddenly raged robbers just waiting to take you over. And what you’d describe in the daylight as a beautiful spring creation is, in the dark, your worst fears and beginning of an ulcer.
Well, I’ve sat in the dark for long enough. My mind has convinced me that there’s no hope, that it’s all my worst fears. And so the thought of noise in the dark has kept me silenced. And the thought of company in the vacuum has kept me lonely long enough. Now this fear of movement has created deep pain. When the truth of it is that, in the light, this is all so beautiful. So, so beautiful.
I’m ready to come out of the shadows and into the light. So I can see myself once again. The real me. The beautiful me. Not the one created in the dark.
Lying on your back
Staring up at the sky
Wonderin’ what it is you lack
As time just drifts on by.
Another day just the same
Getting restless with it all
Everyone knows, but no fame
Ten days without a call.
You’re lost in your universe
Can’t please him
Can’t please yourself
Things only worse.
And in your head, all you need
Is to know you’re loved
To be completely freed
Break these bonds and walk away.
You say, you’ve never seen a shooting star
You say, you don’t believe in love
You say, you’ll never go very far.
Life’s not what you dreamed of.
But just stop, for this time
Breathe in and out again
End all your looking around
Today think of just yourself
Who it is you are.
Now who it is you really are.
When no one else is watching
When no one else gives a damn.
You say, you’ve never seen a shooting star
You say, you don’t believe in love
You say, you’ll never go very far.
Life’s not what you dreamed of.
But have you really looked?
And have you ever felt?
Have you even ever taken a step?
To live your own dream.
Or have you been too busy
Living the dreams of someone else.
Chasing the mirage of his figure.
Never grasping anything real.
Shooting stars aren’t seen by eyes alone,
They are witnessed with the mind.
And love isn’t just for relationships,
But for everyone who is alive.
Traveling’s not about leaving home,
Except for the stretching of your heart.
Dreams aren’t for the lone youthful
But every aching heart in action.
Set yourself free from you
Run through the night’s sky
Open your heart
To let love in and out
Put one foot in front of the other
Run away from here
Dream like there’s no today
For tomorrow is already here.
I remember the first time that I wandered away from home. Seven hundred miles and I found myself in the capital of the country. Grasping freedom in the land of free for the first time in my short and sheltered life.
At the time, it seemed like the wild frontier. Now it seems so close to home. There was so much I didn’t know about the world back then. But even more so, there existed many things I didn’t know about myself.
Life is really just a journey of getting to know yourself a little better. It’s a challenge to create our own world out of the lump of clay we’ve been handed, formed into what it is by the many generations before. And with haste, we must keep molding that clay, before it dries and this world becomes hard in its sedentary form.
We must constantly be learning about ourselves. What makes us tick. What makes us shine. What breaks our soul. What barriers keep us from doing more. And which propel us away from doing less.
I was a slow-learner. But at 20, I never guessed where the next 5 years would take me. Thank God, because I would have overthought and miscalculated it all. I’ve made up in 5 years, what I could never do in 20. In year 23, back home I headed, to a place my mind knew well, but where my heart had never called home. I made my home inside walls of familiarity and discomfort, abandoning my plans to escape the familiarity in seek of comfort.
For two more years, I lived in my pain. Here in my discomfort. Here in my chaos, that’s where I found peace. I found love. I found the real meaning of growth. Without all of these negative things, my life would never have reached such a positive place. I can still feel the knots in my stomach and the urge to run away just like it was yesterday. And just when I think I will go back to that, I feel a hand on my back. Gently telling me it’s okay. If I need a hug, the arms envelope me and I’m okay. If I need motivation, the arms give me a firm push forward. Each time telling me I am not alone. Telling me that this journey to get to know myself better affects more than just me in this world.
After all, in my two hands I hold some clay. Molding it each day into something that I will eventually hand off to another human being. Hopefully it will be a formation that makes their life a little easier, so they don’t have to spend 20 years creating what I did. From this clay, I can make a rock and weigh others down or I can make a beautiful vase, one which can hold water to nurture another life.
Here in the midst of my wandering, I can reflect on what I’ve learned about myself: that I am me and no one else is. That my experiences allow me to relate to others and empathize with their struggles. It allows me to help carry some of the weight on their shoulders and walk alongside them through their struggles. If I pass up the opportunity to use my pain for positive, then I have let my pain win power over my life. That’s something I refuse to do. Daily, I am thankful for the negative which propels me forward toward the others I can walk alongside.
“The tender loving care of human beings will never become obsolete. People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed and redeemed and redeemed. As you grow older you will discover that you have two hands – one for helping yourself and the other for helping others. Never throw anyone away.” -Sam Levinson
Today, remember that everyone around you is facing their own battle. Human beings will surprise you in good ways, and then sometimes they’ll let you down. Remember you do the same to them (whether you realize it or not). Respect, kindness, and love will always be in dire need within our world. If you can find a way to truly love people, you’ll serve them, and then you can change your world, their world. Our world.