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A Good Night’s Love

“Each morning, the moment you take the head off your pillow, you have all you need.”
–Anonymous

Tonight I picked up dinner for myself and my friend’s grandmother. I ordered from Mona’s, my favorite Lebanese place, on the corner of Banks and Carrollton. I got a chicken kabob plate for myself (though it wound up being a kabob plate for 2) and an order of baba ganoush for my companion. On my way home, I passed a woman with one of those signs we see all the time: “Hungry. Hopeless. Anything Helps.” She was thin, blonde, and wore a pink t-shirt. I reached a red light and we were side by side. Growing up in New Orleans and transplanting to New York, I’m in these situations all the time. As a child, I watched my parents give when they could, but they always told me to keep my window up. I get it: I’m a young woman in a dangerous city, and you can’t predict people’s temperaments or intentions. Plus, while I’ve grown up privileged, at this point in my life I don’t have much money of my own. So what to do then, what to do? Do I acknowledge her or look forward?

During my first semester at NYU, I joined an organization that aims to fight homelessness in the city. Every Sunday that I could, I went out with two or three others and delivered Kind Bars, toothbrushes, period-proof underwear, socks, and hand-made soaps to people on the street who were visibly in need. However, what we gave exceeded mere supplies. At the core of this organization was human connection. We were told to crouch down on our knees, meet our mate at eye level, extend our hands, and introduce ourselves by first name. Then, we would ask them theirs, and begin a conversation. We would ask about their experiences with welfare and housing in New York, and we would pass that information on to the higher-ups. Often these conversations lasted thirty minutes; sometimes more. We even developed some friendships. For a while, this work fulfilled me to the point that my guilt about putting myself first lessened. But like any practice, if you stop doing it, you get rusty.

After my first semester, I was unable to continue. Life, and school, got in the way. As we say in recovery…self comes first…but that doesn’t make it easy on my conscience. For a while, I still smiled at people I would pass on the street, but they would meet my gaze and latch onto it, pleading for my money. At that point, I felt guilty–mean–as if I were misleading them. So gradually I stopped, and reverted to the popular practice of simply looking away.

I love talking to people. I love giving love! But often when I open myself up, people get too close too quickly and ask for more than I’m able or willing to give. Sometimes I feel that if I can’t give somebody what they want, then it’s not worth it for me to talk to them at all. The thought of getting someone’s hopes up and letting them down is crushing.

Life is full of challenges. Race, class, economic division…these are real challenges. These are socially constructed, bullshit barriers that tear people apart. For a while, I avoided these challenges by retreating into my eating disorder. It was a refuge, a barrier between me and the rest of society. The outside world did not exist; it was simply me and Rex. But I am in recovery now. And a large part of my work in recovery is taking responsibility. 

Serenity Prayer:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t control, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” 

I can’t control what I do or don’t have in comparison to others. I can’t control the judgments people make about me or the way they perceive my presence. But I can control my own actions and how I use the resources I do have. I can spare money on occasion, but I have an endless supply of love. That I can take responsibility for.

So how did I handle tonight’s situation? After confirming that I felt safe, I turned to face my window. I looked my comrade right in the eye, smiled, and mouthed I’m sorry. She smiled back and mouthed, “It’s okay.” It was a long light, so we maintained the connection. I rotated my torso to the left so that my whole upper body faced her, and I made a heart with my hands. You know, the kind of heart girls used to make at Justin Bieber concerts.

But she didn’t get it.
Using her hands and her lip movements, she asked me, “What?”
I held it up higher.
She didn’t get it.
I jutted it forward.
She still didn’t get it.
I motioned to my heart.
But she just did not get it.

She took a drag from her cigarette and made the shape herself. Then she opened her arms in a shrug position and laughed it off. Oh, well, I thought, I tried. Then, a car pulled up behind me and she moved into my rearview. I restored my body to its normal position and refocused my eyes on the road. Next thing I knew, she was back, this time holding a box of pizza. She ran to me and held up the pizza. She mouthed, “It’s okay! I’m good!” “Yay!” I mouthed back, and gave her a thumbs up. She reciprocated the motion, and we two shared a grinned until the light turned green.

I don’t know who she was. I don’t know her story. But I know she was another human being.
She didn’t know who I was. She didn’t know my story. But she knew I was another human being.
Tonight, that was enough.

I’ll call your attention now to the quote at the top of this post:

“Each morning, the moment you take the head off your pillow, you have all you need.”

It comes from a documentary called “E-Motion,” which I watched earlier this week. For me, it resonates whole-heartedly. Every morning, from the moment I lift my head off the pillow, I do have all I need. I have all I need to serve what I know is my purpose in this world. That, my friends, is love. Sweet Dreams.

 

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