Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Is this Real Life?


Kara and some fellow AmeriCorps members
Maybe you've seen the youtube video where the little boy just left the dentist office after having surgery.  He is a little out of it and asks his dad "is this real life"? and later he asks "is this going to be forever"?  Sometimes as a Franciscan Outreach Volunteer, I ask myself the same questions.  Choosing to participate in two terms of AmeriCorps services has stretched my horizons and opened my eyes to the struggles of the people I am serving.

My time at Franciscan Outreach has been such a blessing; I've been working here for about nine months.  As the guests come in for services, day after day, I have had the opportunity to develop friendships with many of them.  These relationships have become quite casual and it often feels like my friends are coming over for dinner.  It's easy to get sucked into the idea that this is just a place for them to come eat dinner and I tend to forget the circumstances they are facing as they leave the building.

Guest helping to shovel after the snowstorm
Often times I am snapped back to reality.  I want to give you an example of how I am reminded of the circumstances, mental illness, and struggles that my new friends face on a daily basis.  There is one man who comes in nearly every night for dinner and sleeps in the neighborhood afterwards.  He likes to tease us, tell jokes, shovel our courtyard and sign up for diner as Richard Nixon.  He refuses to stay at a shelter and faces all of the nasty Chicago seasons.  Not only this, but he has a hernia that is literally the size of a basketball that is protruding from his stomach.  From what I've heard, he is scared to have the surgery so he won't get it taken care of.  One night, he was transferring his belongings from his shopping cart in the courtyard to the dining hall, which isn't uncommon, but it took him about three trips, carrying two to three big black trash bags each time.

At that moment it struck me, "is this real life?" and the truth is that this IS his real life.  Every day he has to struggle to move his belongings...Every day he wears the same clothes...Every day he doesn't have access to his own shower...Every day he has to deal with his hernia...Every day he pushes his shopping cart around the neighborhood to get to dinner (which could be his only meal)...Every day he lugs his possessions in and out of the dining hall so they aren't stolen...Every day he finds a place to face the night-time elements and get some sleep...EVERY DAY.

Even though I'm a full-time volunteer who has dedicated a year to live simply, my "real life" and my "every day" is drastically different.  Every day I wake up with a roof over my head...Every day I eat plenty and sometimes more or even throw away food...Every day I have clean clothes to wear...Every day I have the opportunity to take a shower...Every day I sleep in a bed...
Community supporting one of our guests that works lighting for a local theater

It is incredible to me that our "every days" are so different, even though every day we share part of it with one another.  It breaks my heart to know that these guests, my friends, have to face the reality of hunger, homelessness, mental illness, addiction, and degradation on a daily basis.  To me, I feel like every human being should have access to the basic necessities of life; food, water, shelter and clothing.  Although here at Franciscan Outreach we do provide these basic necessities and offer services, we always need more people to be involved, because unfortunately many of our guests still struggle to have these basic necessities. The only way this will change is based on what we chose to do about it and our response to the question of "is this going to be for forever?"