Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Story

Ok. So, I know, I've been a little out of touch the last few days, thinking I could get by with a few photos or some video clip, and not do as much writing.

Here's a Christmasy story.....yes, it is totally true.

Once a month, I volunteer at the local homeless shelter around the corner from me in Manhattan.

The shelter is a school gym during the day. As one of the two volunteers, I show up after work, help set up the cots, put together dinner, sleep over, and then serve breakfast and put things back in order in the morning.

I've been doing it for a while, over a year, and it's really no big whoop. It becomes routine.

Last week, I was the "experienced" volunteer and a new volunteer, her first time, helped out. The other volunteer, "Sue", was very nice, lived nearby, and is from the mid-west, finishing her degree in New York.

At first she asked me if it was safe to sleep over.

I said, "Well, sure...I guess. In over 20 years, they've never had an incident. The guests are homeless, they're not criminals. A loss of a job, some medical bills they can't pay, and some people are on the street."

It's usually the same homeless guests that come to the shelter. After a while, you get to know people and faces.

There's one woman, "Jane", who's been getting progressively worse. She must be in her sixties, and each month, I notice that she's a little slower, more paranoid, and a little more argumentative with the other guests.

I have to admit, I don't have the patience I should have with her. If she gets the wrong pillow or someone says the wrong thing, she complains and she wants me to write people up. It's usually not necessary, and I try to change the topic.

This month, Jane had a friend, another guest, an older man with a cane, and he helped her out; he made her bed for her, he helped her with her food, he was very patient. He gave her the individual attention that she needed.

It was a normal evening, without incident. Everyone liked the mint chocolate chip ice cream I got at the store. One guy really liked the carrot bread that someone made and brought to the shelter.

In the morning, after the guests left, I was washing out the coffee pot, and turned to the other volunteer and asked her what she thought, after her first night.

I noticed she had been crying.

She turned to me and said, "That woman, Jane, twenty years ago, she would be in a place where they could take care of her, but now she has to go back on the street, every day. She can barely function, she's always fidgeting. At least that guy was helping her. They take care of each other here, it's so sweet. But where's her family? Why don't they take her in? I want to just take her home and take care of her myself, it's Christmas and all."

I thought, what could I say?

"Well, at least she does have a place to sleep here, it's safe, and we know that she gets two meals a day."

She said, "I know, I know."

I said, "I mean, I volunteer here because at least it's something, and it reminds me to be happy for what I've got."

She said, "I just need to take a long walk and take this all in. Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas."

2 comments:

Rose Marie said...

"Jane."

You're not tricking anyone here Miss Trixie.

Oh, let me guess, does her name REALLY rhyme with "craggy" or "draggy"? I'm just sayin'...

Agnes said...

Rose Marie, I'm WARNING you...