I was awakened the other night by a phone call from my dad’s cell phone. The stranger on the other end was not my dad. It was the man who shares his body with him. The one who suffers from anxiety attacks, hallucinations, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The one who came back with him from Desert Storm in 1991, and who still threatens to overtake him today. It was not my dad. I quietly told him I would call him in the morning when he was himself again, then turned off the phone and went back to sleep, the stranger haunting my dreams.
My dad is one of America’s disabled veterans. I mention it here, in Knitting for the Homeless, because of a very disheartening and scary fact: although veterans make up only 11% of the US population, they account for 26% of the homeless population (according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness). Knowing how my dad’s mental state has frightened away many employers, friends, and even family, I can’t look at a desolate on the street asking for change without thinking, “That could be my dad.” And I want to cry in frustration, knowing how our country so frivolously throws our soldiers at meaningless wars and then neglects their well being on their return, if they’re broken and no longer useful to the military.
I, like many people, look away when I see a desolate on the street, afraid to be reminded of how close my own father is to being in that situation. My husband, however, being somewhat removed from the situation and braver than I, will take the initiative to buy the person a meal, and I am reminded that there are still good, non-judgmental people in the world and that I am lucky enough to be married to one of them.
I am ashamed for being so weak, for not doing more to help the homeless. But a few weeks ago, I saw a call for help on Knitting for the Homeless. A wonderful group of women in Hawaii had spent all year long knitting scarves for the homeless and, Hawaiian weather not necessitating scarves, were now looking for someone on the mainland to distribute them to those in need. I knew immediately that this was my chance to be more proactive with the homeless, so I sent them an e-mail and volunteered.Miriam’s Kitchen at 7am last Friday, my husband assisting with the transportation of the scarves. There I met a young woman named Ashley Lawson, with whom I had spoken a few times over e-mail. She was very excited about my idea to distribute the scarves there, and offered to show us around.
The kitchen was already bustling with activity, as the cooks had been preparing breakfast for over an hour before we arrived. I was awed by their enthusiasm. There was not a single note of sadness or pity at their diners; they were all too happy to be there and more than willing to help out. It was a small kitchen, I thought, but overflowing with kindness and good will.
In the dining room, Ashley introduced me to Trevor, a regular diner of theirs. She told him about the knitting women in Hawaii and the scarves, and that’s when he told me he was an avid knitter himself. Miriam’s Kitchen sponsored arts and crafts activities after the breakfast program every morning, and Trevor never missed the sewing and knitting group. He said he had learned the art from his mother. He thanked me for the handmade scarves I brought for the diners that day, and Ashley led me to meet some more of their regulars. One of them was ecstatic about finally getting a copy of his birth certificate, the first step in getting back into “The System,” as my husband calls it. Everyone there had a story, and each one began with when they were just like everyone else.
I left Miriam’s Kitchen that morning feeling a mix of emotions: satisfaction, sadness, and guilt. How could I go home and eat knowing the people I had met that day might not eat again for days? I admired the volunteers I had met, who went back day after day without losing their spirit. Maybe the subject hits to close to home for me, or maybe I am still too weak, but I don’t know that I could do that. But I am very grateful for my experience that morning. It has given me much to think about, as well as some resolutions for the New Year.
On a side note, today is December 21st, National Homeless Person’s Memorial Day. I will honor today by calling my dad, the real him, and remind him that he still always has my sister and me. That’s the only thought that keeps him from giving up on everything and becoming just another homeless veteran. As long as he has my sister and me, that’s all that matters to him.