Merry Christmas … It’s so cold … I’m so very cold …!
Early Friday mornings are special times for me. I learn what it’s like to be a member of my village. I am given the rare opportunity of seeing the human condition from a perspective not usually offered to me. I learn how simply seeing from afar is like reading only the cover of a book, a book with a rich, thick story within its covers going unread. Each Friday in the dark hours of approaching daylight I spend several hours distributing clothing to homeless members of my community … my larger community … the village that embraces all of those walking along side me on this tiny part of the planet.
This morning was especially powerful. Not only was it Christmas morning but it was below freezing. The circumstances offered challenges to both volunteers and homeless alike. And even in the shared moments in freezing temperatures a cheerful “Merry Christmas” was exchanged, taken in, and reflected back as people stepped into the outside patio where clothing is distributed. All involved felt better in that magic moment.
But as I met individuals at the gate where entry is coordinated, one woman appear in obvious distress. Her slight, thin frame covered only by a single coat, and having no hat or gloves gave testament that her night’s stay outside had been painful and had driven her body temperature downward. As she tried to hold a cup of hot coffee provided by another group of volunteers near the front of the building her hands and body shook uncontrollably. Her shaking splashed her coffee out onto her hand, but her hands were too cold to sense it and her speech was impaired by the trembling in her voice, again a result of how deeply cold she had gotten.
She was overwhelmed by the cold … and as she shook she softly and respectfully said “ … it’s so cold … I’m so very cold …”. I steadied her hand with the coffee so that she could sip more of the warm liquid. I gave her gloves which we struggled to get on her frozen hands. I wrapped a scarf around her neck while others found a knit hat and tried to get her a warmer jacket or shirt. And for what seemed an eternity she softly and respectfully continued to say …” it’s so cold … I’m so very cold …” as she shook violently.
Finally one of the volunteers was able to lead her down to one of the temporary, outside warming areas in hopes of helping her climb out of the dungeon of cold that had imprisoned her. And as I watched them walk toward the outside heater I thought … I recalled to myself those times when I’ve been cold … those times when my hands hurt and my skin stung … those times when it became an eternity until I once again stopped shivering and was warm. But you see, I also saw a difference. When I was overwhelmingly cold I had a home. I had the right clothes available. I had food and had eaten. I had the security of knowing I will have a warm, safe place to sleep at night as the temperatures once again plummet well below 32 degrees. It opened my eyes just a bit more so that I could more clearly see the truer nature of homelessness. It allowed me to open the covers of the book and read the details within, giving me greater understanding … giving me greater empathy … giving me added opportunities to inwardly express my gratitude for all that I have.
Just one powerful moment among so many … so many moments I am given each Friday morning as some of us reach out to offer dignity and help. Just one more moment for me to see more clearly … appreciate more deeply … and become more integrated with the village of my community. And I am grateful …