I am so inspired by the protesters who are daring to occupy Wall Street in NYC. To be honest, I was worried about this new generation of young people, and now I am pleased to be proved wrong. It’s sad to say, but here in the city that was once a hotbed of questioning authority, young folks seem more concerned with making sure they have the “right” Ray Ban sunglasses and are going to the coolest coffee roasteries than on actually changing the world. And the protests here lately have been absolutely ridiculous. BART? C’mon, son. There are bigger fish to fry, and they can only be caught in the financial district.
Here in the Tenderloin, I work with the families who are drowning in this current climate of corporate greed. Family homelessness is at an all time high in San Francisco, with 227 families with children waiting for shelter. This week, the organization I work for, whose program Compass Connecting Point handles all the family shelter needs in San Francisco, placed only one family in a shelter. Families are waiting up to 8 months to GET INTO A HOMELESS SHELTER. That means in the meantime, they are living on the streets, for almost a YEAR of their children’s lives.
As a therapist, it is my job to sit with them in their situation, to help them hold the feelings that arise as they continue to not be able to provide a better life for their children than they themselves had. You can imagine such feelings: anxiety, fear, despair. I cannot go into the specifics but in the three years that I have been here, and the economic climate has only gotten worse and worse, my heart has continually been broken for these families.
I cannot leave them and my daughter to go protest on the streets of NYC — my calling is here, to be a stable presence for them and for her. But that is why youth is a time of freedom, so that hopefully the college kids will use it to be a voice for those of us who cannot go. I am truly standing in solidarity with them, and hoping they don’t get off-topic as they stand up for the families everywhere that have slipped into debilitating poverty these past few years of unprecendented greed. When I went to protests in college, I would get so frustrated by the folks who would bring in every pet peeve to shout about. I think it is insane that the media is not covering these protests, but that is further proof that it will have to be grassroots, and that’s where the internet comes in. On the Occupy Wall Street album on Facebook, they called for people to use whatever internet platform they have to get the word out about this movement, so here I am, on my blog, showing what little support I can from here.
At the same time, I am careful not to get caught up in “causes”. The poor are real people, people whom I know and care for. And there is an increasingly thinner economic line between “me” and “them”. Madeleine L’Engle calls it “the snare of avoiding pain by taking up causes”. Jesus calls us to love people, not causes.
A new intern here at Compass asked me today, “Are you happy?” I was totally taken aback by the personal nature of this question, and had no idea how to answer. “In my LIFE, I am happy…” I responded, and went on to say that the work I do here is very challenging, and of course I would much rather just spend all day cuddling my baby, but I feel spiritually called to sit with people in their pain, to guide them through the Underworld if I can, even though I get lost there with them sometimes. I would be “happy” not to have to do this work, if children did not have to live in poverty and experience trauma. But this is the world, so here I am.
In morning prayer today I prayed for God to give Joel and I the courage to sacrifice being with each other and Olive this day to help other families simply survive. So, I told the intern today that I may not experience happiness at this job, but it is rewarding in other ways, and, more importantly, struggle grows the soul. I have no intention of living a life that has no challenges. At times, I question this, wondering if I have actively made my life too challenging for me to actually manage, and if my family is suffering because of all I take on. But I want to live in that tension, because it reminds me that I cannot do this on my own strength. I need God, and I need you, dear community, and we need each other. I pray for those who are being living prophets in NYC and other cities today. And most of all, I am trying to root out the greed and desire to be perfect and free of pain in my own heart, choosing instead the path of love, which may indeed be lined with thorns, but also with roses.