I spent the morning handing out produce at a food bank downtown. Wrapped up in scarves and gloves we curved up our mouths at hundreds, making eye contact and conversation. “Just be warm and welcoming,” our volunteer coordinator told us. What that really means is, “Just acknowledge their humanity.”
Hungry. Not just their bellies. They want someone to see them. Someone to let them know that they’re noticed. They matter. They’re still worthy human beings.
Never in my life have I wondered where my next meal would come from. There were weeks when every meal was Top Ramen and cigarettes, but the meals always existed. I always had the luxury of being more concerned with my monthly booze budget. I made the decision to focus on getting high or drunk over getting fed, but always got fed anyway. I’m thankful for that. But I know the other kind of hunger. The kind Bruce Springsteen sings about. The one that volunteers and donation centers can’t combat.
There is no acknowledgement of our shoulders brushing on sidewalks. We do not talk when we sit next to each other on the bus. Every, “Good morning, how are you?” meets the same, “Good, thanks, and you?” A string of words with no heart and no expectation of a honesty or an answer. I know the hunger for someone seeing me. For not always feeling so completely alone.
An old friend called me. We started the conversation the way we’re trained to, “Things are good, not much is new…” My throat caught, though. Deep, shaky breath. “No, actually, you know what? Things have been really hard on my end and I’m not sure why. I’m just struggling to keep my head above water these days.”
He paused. Maybe surprise. Maybe just not sure how he’s supposed to respond to something like that. Weighing his options. Deciding if he’s going to go there with me. Like he’s counting down in his head. Come on, jump. Just do it. And he did. “Yeah, you know, me, too.”
It seems we’re all just barely holding on at the seams lately. Clinging to everything we can get our fingers into and hoping we won’t rip apart before we come out on the other side of whatever this is. There’s some comfort in that. Little fragments of hope. All these people around me have managed to hang on this long. Maybe I can, too.
We’re not exceptions. Nothing about us is so special that our hurt is ours alone. Different, always. Variance in how we feel it and where it comes from, but we all have our own fights. We fumble along thinking that maybe, just maybe, we can be just a little stronger. Just a little braver. That we can make it just a little longer. I know we can’t all be wrong. I wonder if we can all be right.