Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Superhero Stories

John poses in front of the Chicago skyline 
John and his mentor, Aaron 
Hey, I’m John! I’m close to my twentieth birthday, I come from a quiet town in the west of Germany near the Rhein called Wiesbaden, and I am a sucker for superhero stories. I still haven’t figured out how exactly they hooked me in the first place. Maybe it was because I spent too much time in front of the TV when I was too “sick” to go to school; maybe because all those superheroes looked pretty awesome in their spandex suits; or maybe every eight year old boy wants to save the world. But as I grew up I realized something and it was not “John you’re a grown man, you should stop thinking about Superheroes”. I realized that most of these stories are one dimensional. You always know who the good guy is, who the bad guy is, and which one you should like while hating the other. I started asking myself how these stories would look if they wouldn´t be so one dimensional and I found my answer here at Franciscan Outreach.


John and his community celebrate German Unity Day
As a full time volunteer I work overnights at Franciscan House, Franciscan Outreach’s emergency shelter. So I spend most of my nights at Harrison and California, taking care of the North and South dorms which offer shelter to around 230 men. In the summertime, the lights go out at 9:30 PM, then I go on break, which includes a quick trip back to the Marquard Center and at 10:30 PM my night shift starts officially. For most of the night, it is just me and my desk- which is stationed in the North Dorm with a nice view across the beds and the individuals who sleep in them. From time to time I take a tour through the facility to check that everything is safe and sound. Sometimes, I take a detour to our office to grab some food and fresh coffee. Don't get me wrong, not all nights work that way; usually, it is quite the opposite. But the nights full of events or emergencies are not the nights I want to talk about. The quiet and uneventful nights give me the opportunity to listen to real superhero stories. On those nights, I have the chance to listen to the guests who can't find sleep. Some come straight to me because they know there is a naive, young guy at the desk that needs a lecture about life. Others need to ask a question so they know there is someone at the desk that cares. Either way, they give me the opportunity to listen to their story. They tell stories about loss, setbacks, and tragic events but also about happiness, trust, and ambitions. Now we come to the plot of this whole blog post. These stories are the real superhero stories for me. Why? First of all, they are not one dimensional. They refer to real human beings with real intention and more important real issues. That is what makes these stories so intense because while you are listening you realize piece by piece that the individual in front of you is talking about relatable human problems. As we all know, real issues are not easy to categorize as good or bad. After all, you are not so different; even though it seemed impossible some moments ago. On the other hand, relating to these stories can be hard since our guests experience things you and I can’t even imagine. Most people have never had to deal with mental and/or physical abuse or being marginalized every day, just to name a few. Despite this, our guests always greet me with a “Good Evening”, they say their bed number and give me a smile (some more enthusiastic than others). If all of that doesn’t make them superheroes then I don´t know what would. These are people who have to deal with some tough stuff and, even though they may struggle under all of that weight sometimes, they still stand.

The Shelter Crew poses for a picture at Opening Retreat
I think it is important to hear these superhero stories because unlike the other heroes we see today in the media, their story gets critically neglected by society. So next time a nice gentleman with slightly ripped clothes on the street has something to tell, maybe stop and listen. You might be fortunate enough to hear a superhero story. Or approach me or any of my fellow volunteers; we are always down to share some heroic stories from and with our guests. But be sure that we won´t share any names because every good superhero needs their mask.

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