Monday, December 9, 2013

Remembering to be Thankful

Art of War Concept: The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand.

One of my favorite things to do is to attend public events where I have the opportunity to meet new and interesting people.  Recently, I had the pleasure of attending such an event --  TheARC’s After Dark fundraiser where I had the opportunity to sit at the table sponsored by The Covenant House. I had heard of The Covenant House because they are in the same building as the TheARC on Mississippi Ave, SE, but never really understood their mission and work they perform in the community.

While engaging in conversations with The Covenant House staff, I learned about their mission to end youth homelessness.  At the end of the night they invited me to participate in their annual Sleep Out event.  This event is held every fall in an effort to raise awareness about youth homeless in the city and to raise money for the organization that assists youth in finding permanent housing.  Corporate executives and community activists from around the city agree to sleep outside for one night in an effort to gain first- hand experience on what it is like to be homeless while raising money for the cause. Initially I was hesitant to participate but after some convincing I agreed to support a worthy cause.

When I arrived at the Covenant House I really did not know what to expect. I figured it would be a long night so I dressed in sweat pants and a hoodie. The evening began with a candlelight vigil to stand in solidarity with disconnected youth in our city. After the vigil we all participated in roundtable discussions with some of the youth who have participated in programs.

Hearing their stories about broken homes, domestic abuse and other struggles in life reminded me that I take so much for granted and I have a lot to be thankful for. It reminded me there are residents in our city that are living hard lives and trying to get through the day can be a challenge. Thinking about what the future holds beyond today day is a difficult for some.

Around 11pm we were told by the facilitators it was time to grab our sleeping bags and to find a spot in the parking lot or walkway where we would spend the night. Some of us grabbed a spot on the sidewalk and some in the grass, but looking at the faces of the participants we were all a little nervous about the coming experience. The fact that the weather forecast called for temps in the low 40s left none of us too excited. I found a spot on the walkway. I laid a cardboard box down first to try and soften the ground and then a black trash bag on top of the box to trap any moisture to stay dry. I then crawled into my sleeping bag.  I never thought about bringing my own pillow.  I initially I used my shoe as a pillow until a fellow participant felt sorry for me because I look so uncomfortable and loaned me an empty book bag to use as a pillow for the night.

That whole night, I think I got about 1 hour of light sleep. I spent most of the night trying to get comfortable. When I thought I found an ideal spot, I had to get up to use the restroom. When I got back, I went through the process again of tossing and turning in my sleeping bag to find a spot where I felt comfortable enough to close my eyes to get some sleep.

While lying there, I thought to myself I will never look at the homeless the same way ever again. I felt
especially bad to know that we have youth who are living in these types of conditions. I knew my one night experience was temporary.  I knew I was safe because I was sleeping next to the facility and around thirty other executives and community organizers. I knew that if I needed to I could go to the restroom in the facility and grab bottled water if I was thirsty. I knew when the morning came I was free to go home, take a hot shower and get another hour of sleep in my warm bed before going to work.

I could not imagine being homeless, having to go through the process of finding somewhere safe to sleep every night. Getting up in the morning, not having a job to go. I am so thankful for my many blessings in life. I am even thankful for the disappointments because I was reminded that night that when things are not going my way, it sure could be a lot worse.

What are you thankful for this holiday season? I can start off by sharing that I am thankful for great parents and awesome family support that continues to encourage me to be a better version of myself. 

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