Monday, April 2, 2012

Pilgrims of Letters

The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts has made ministry with the homeless a primary part of its evangelization. From the bishops down to the parishes, it has made ending homelessness an economic justice priority. It is tied intimately to the founding of Ecclesia Ministries, whose model of Christian community with unhoused persons has been introduced in numerous cities around the United States and even globally.

Now the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, which runs a lunch program for homeless persons on Mondays, has begun to publish The Pilgrim, a monthy literary digest written by women and men who congregate around the lunch program and Ecclesia Ministries. For a nominal contribution to the cathedral's Monday lunch program I now have a subscription to The Pilgrim.

The third issue arrived in the mail on the weekend. It is bracing spiritual reading. Now I have been thinking about Jesus' journey to Jerusalem as the ultimate pilgrimage and considering today's homeless, forced onto their own torturous paths to Golgotha. It amazes me that anyone who has lived on the streets for long could still affirm that the glory of God awaits them at the end of their bloody trails. These Simons and Simones of Cyrene, they know the footsteps of Jesus and Francis, have put their own broken feet in their bloody tracks. Me? I only write about following in the footsteps of the savior and the saint.

The least I can do is share with you what someone who has really walked like Jesus and Francis says. One article from the March issue of The Pilgrim follows below. More will follow throughout Holy Week.

Living on the Streets of Boston

by Dave Reid

I once had a dream, and being homeless wasn't it. I'm not writing this for anyone to feel sorry for me. I'm writing it to release what's in my life and thoughts.

So this is my life. I can't really tell you how long I've been on the streets. It's been many, many years. I don't call myself street-smart I call myself streetwise. I'm a night walker and a day sleeper. I see a lot. I ask God why. I haven't had an answer yet. Late at night, mostly, is where I see the real homeless: most of them are mentally disturbed, they are loners and stay by themselves. As I walk, and I see this, I pray hard for them. And I'm afraid as I write this that I'm becoming one of them. I'm a loner. I keep my back to walls so I can see everyone. I keep them up front always.

My backpack is my life. This is all I have. I'm 54. The older I get, the colder it is. Tonight I'm covered up with a pretty good sleeping bag. It's snowing out. I stay where I'm at. Snow is a lot better than rain. I wake up in the morning, my bag is covered with snow. I crawl out and shake everything off.

I left home at the age of thirteen. I'll never forget that day. Wayne, my father, told me as I was walking out the door: "Face it, Dave -- you were dealt a shit hand in life. Get over it." I remember seeing hobos eating out of trash cans, and saying to myself I'd never to that. Next thing I know I'm eating out of those same trash cans.

I'm sitting on a brick wall. She comes up and hands me a hot egg sandwich and a coffee and tells me God bless. I don't like taking things. Now my mind starts racing so I'm off to walk a couple of miles. It's very cold out and as I'm walking I look in the trash cans. A young couple walks up to me, they hand me ten bucks, tell me to go get something to eat. I look at the ground most of the day and it's to do with people giving me things. This was never part of my dream.

I'm sleeping by the Charles River. Really cold. I wake up a couple of times and see rats the size of cats. Two-thirty a.m.: here comes a Pine Street van. They ask me if I need a blanket, soup and crackers, hot cocoa, a sandwich. They show up every night.

I'm walking, and I find that I'm talking to myself. Even the homeless wonder what will happen to them when they die. Like I said, I have nothing but my backpack. When you have nothing it makes you wonder: will I die all alone? Sometimes I'm very tired. That scares me. Sometimes I feel dirty. It's been a week since I had a shower. My fingernails have black dirt under them so I hold off on shaking hands.

It's raining out and I'm soaked, walking around to stay warm. I go to the Orange Line: lots of heat. I open up my sleeping bag and hang it on a railing to dry ...

Being homeless is one of the hardest jobs I've ever had. The days are long: I get to my spot where I sleep at 1:30 a.m. and I'm up before 5. I don't get many showers. The outreach workers let me use their bathroom -- I strip down, stand over a drain with a big cup of warm water, pour it over myself, soap up and then rinse off the same way. That's my shower for the week. They also give me clean socks and underwear. I know as you read this you're wondering why I don't go to shelters. They're dirty. People rob you. You catch things: bedbugs, crabs. I feel safer on the street.

So the next time you pass a homeless person laying on the ground say hello, or something nice -- it means the world. Living on the streets can mess the mind up. I'm a loner, I'm 54 years old and I believe God has something good for me, 54 and I don't stop praying -- God answers all prayers. He just takes longer with some prayers than others. I'll fight this 'til the end and I know that when I die I'll have a place up there with Him. I'll pray and believe until the day I leave this earth.

I would like to thank my new family: Sister Tina, James Parker, Rich, Paul, Judy, Steve, Brenda, Shag, Sarah, Jen, Jep, Brian and Jayne and the rest. I thank you all for making me feel part of this, for being there for me and for giving me those very, very needed hugs. One more thing: I spend most of the day on the Common, or in the Gardens feeding the squirrels. There's over 100 of them, maybe more. The sad part is that these little squirrels are my friends, real friends -- they'll never hurt you like mankind does.

God bless you all and all who read this.

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