I just received a forward of a letter of appreciation that someone sent to Terry Messman, the publisher of Street Spirit, with regards to a previous article of mine he had published. I deduced that it must have been the August article, based on the context:
I just wanted to say that I was really moved by a recent piece by Andy Pope (unsure of which volume, but it was from several months ago). His writing really helped me understand what it’s like to be in his shoes, day by day. I also felt incredibly sad reading it. I wish that I could offer someone like Andy a place to stay.
I’m also curious about your fundraiser, and if . . . .
Upon reading those words, I felt a poignant surge of pathos. I did not need a place to stay at the time the article was published. I wrote that piece in June of 2016. It wasn’t published until August 2017 — long after I’d succeeded in getting myself indoors. So it felt somehow wrong that someone should be thinking of offering me one.
At the same time, however, this is the point of its having been published in the first place. When I wrote it, I was fortunate enough to have gained a seat for me and my laptop in a Starbucks on a rainy Sunday morning. I had been living outdoors for so many years that the idea of ever actually attaining to an indoor dwelling place again seemed inconceivable. It was that sense of resignation to the complete unpredictability of the homeless condition that gave the piece its purpose. It was written by a homeless person while homeless, and thus filtered out nothing of the very present feelings so painfully described therein.
This also served to remind me that my life has meaning. I had always fancied myself something of a Writer, even as I wrote frivolous bagatelles to pass the time away while bored. I wrote pieces of garbage that I knew to be garbage, only because my nervous need to engage myself in such intellectual thumb-twiddling was so pressing in my restless mind. But now I have been granted this great gift of experience, and not only of experience itself, but of the subsequent freedom to actually sit down and write about it. This is something I never dreamed I would gain. I, like almost everyone else I knew, had consigned myself to die a miserable, meaningless death on the streets.
Not two years have passed since I penned those words sitting in that Starbucks, grimly watching the sun make an effort to reveal itself from amid an early morning cloudburst. Thankful was I indeed, as I’d have been on any other rainy morning, to have gotten out of the homeless rain. But at the same time, how completely cynical I was that after all those years, I would ever manage to get myself into a decent, dignified living situation again!
I had been so happy to have landed the simple hole-in-the-wall that I found at Friendship Square, almost an entire year went by before I could even grasp the concept that there might be a better place in store for me. This adds to the pathos. For so many years, I prayed specifically that I would one day be given “a lock on a door, a window, and a power outlet. ” That wish having been granted so dramatically, I sincerely felt like an ingrate when I began to look for a more suitable living situation. After all, God had answered that prayer pretty much down to the letter. I received exactly one window, two power outlets, and three locks on my door. (God apparently knew which of the three priorities was most important to me!)
Eventually, however, it reached the unpleasant stage where not even three locks could do the trick. I would surface from fitful sleep in the wee hours, only to hear the ribald congregating of drug-addicted young men out in the hallway. Then, I would presume in my half-awake state that I still slept outdoors, and that these other fellows must have been outdoors, as well.
“Where am I? Who are these people? Are they coming to steal my stuff? Or did I steal their Spot by mistake? Or are these the security guards, or maybe even the property owners? Damn! I better get out of here!”
But then, a few seconds would pass, and slowly the details of reality would sink in. I was in no immediate danger. The voices I heard, though they seemed intrusive, were actually separated from me by the three locks on my very own door. And yet – why could I not sleep for the evidence of their presence? Could I honestly be that traumatized? Could I not separate the aggressive energy of my new neighbors from that of space invaders of times past? My pastor literally had to persuade me that the little hole-in-the-wall was not the be-all-and-end-all to my life’s experience. I did not need to live among practicing thieves and drug addicts if I did not want to.
It was hard to leave Friendship Square without feeling like an ingrate. But that is exactly what I have done. It’s costing me a bit more money than I can comfortably squeeze out at the moment, but the trade-off is well worth it. For the past two nights, I have slept soundly and peacefully in my new secluded apartment, far removed from the downtown denizens, and all the constant raucous activity that I so easily overlooked in my earlier elation over having landed any kind of indoor place of residence at all. And you know what? The moment I set my laptop down on that dining room table, I felt instantly more focused than I have felt for months. Surely now I have everything I need! I have my own bathtub even. And a dishwasher. A medicine cabinet in which to store hygienic needs. My own bedroom. A living room. My daughter can even comfortably come visit me now. Do I deserve this? Honestly – it is almost too good to be true.
Well – I suppose whether I “deserve” it or not is immaterial. At best, it would lead to pointless theological debate. For me, the purpose of the gift is to put it to use. I am going to set myself down in this seclusion, and write write Write Write WRITE — because now I have something to write about. And not only that – but a place to do it from. So do me a favor. Don’t ever let me forget how huge this is.
On the streets, I would have died a meaningless death. Here, far away from the streets — in distance, if not in memory — I have been granted a meaningful life.
Please help raise awareness as to the Homeless Phenomenon in America.
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