I was able to reflect this weekend on the chance our team had to serve at Preble Street's Soup Kitchen for the homeless in Portland, Maine on Friday. The experience was eye-opening and we not only learned a great deal about the homeless epidemic, but we also learned how we can help them feel "human" again. That really struck me. Human again? You mean they don't feel human?
When we arrived, we were each given small jobs that helped prepare for breakfast. I washed and chopped potatoes for home fries, while others began prepping food items or washing dishes as things were finished up. After about an hour of prep, we were ready to start the serving line and the doors were open. We were told that by simply offering choices on the serving line, we are giving them some of their independence back. We were also told we may be the only human interaction these people have all day. Wow. I needed to make it count.
I watched as more than 500 people made it through our line, each with their own story. I saw mental illness, drug addiction, families fleeing war-torn countries, but most of all - I saw humanity. Humanity that was suffering silently and would only look you in the eye if you spoke to them first. But when that eye contact did happen, I saw the most genuine smiles and in those smiles I could see the glimpse of who they used to be. The fisherman who lost his job, the educated immigrant hoping for a chance to work, the teenager kicked out by their family - they all had a life before this and they are all trying to journey back to a life that seems unattainable at the moment.
This moment changed me. I thought I was compassionate but realized that sometimes I am fearful - fearful of those that are different than me simply because I don't know where they come from or where their life journey has taken them. I think Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had the same message for us all when he said, "We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear." So here's to 2018, where my eyes are a little more open and so is my heart.