I spent the morning at Life House today. Their mission is, “to reconnect homeless and street youth to their dreams.”
After the meeting and tour of their drop-in center, I ran down the hill to catch a bus, something I only rarely do. Due to poor planning—well, no planning—I missed my bus by several minutes. The feeling of being marooned felt valuable for the story I’ll be writing for Duluthian Magazine.
Cold and alone, I was faced with a question. Should I catch another bus that’ll get me within two miles of home, walking the rest of the way, striving to identify more fully with kids who have nowhere to go?
The taphouse across the street, ever so beguiling, became too much to resist as I stood there weighing my options. Money is tight at our house. Frivolously buying myself lunch and a beverage is not something I generally do.
Stepping in out of a biting wind off the Lake, the first thing I noticed was the establishment’s restroom policy:
I seated myself, promptly received service and a warm meal, and paid with a credit card: $14.31 (including tip), an extravagant expense.
Last year’s income placed our family below the federal poverty line, which frustrates me to no end. It’s a situation we are working to rectify.
I was tired, cold, and hungry. Arguably, I made an unwise impulse purchase at a moment of weakness. What would it be like to be out in the cold, having no credit whatsoever, and to be completely unwelcome at any establishment? Nowhere to turn. No prospects. No hope. No life experience to draw from in a difficult time.
It was nice to spend the better part of an hour inside on a cold day, out of the wind, eating warm food, and frankly, living lavishly.
When I arrived home I pulled this piece of mail out of my mailbox, an advertisement for easy credit, so I could potentially spend more money frivolously:
What a dichotomy. My family might be considered “poor,” but we are rich in hope and love for one another. Many of the kids who frequent Life House experience none of this. Some have been kicked out of their homes at an early age, have survived sexual exploitation, and have endured intensely degrading acts for the sole purpose of spending a single night out of the cold in sub-zero weather.
I spoke with a gal, who, at the age of four, hitch-hiked with her mother to Duluth. From Utah. They wound up being picked up by the state patrol in southern Minnesota, brought to the bus company, and a basket was passed around to the riders of a bus to raise the funds for two tickets. Heavy stuff. Somehow I’ll need to distill everything I heard into a coherent story for the magazine.
As I left our meeting, these rooms were filled with about 30 youths gregariously eating lunch and hanging out. (Life House serves youth ages 14-24. Younger kids are discouraged from dropping in until after 3 pm, in order to encourage school attendance.)
Writing remains a fairly insignificant percentage of our family’s income, but I remain grateful for the opportunity to visit people from all walks of life. It’s as if I have a badge to enter someone’s personal space and ask all sorts of personal questions. Never one for small talk, I cherish this opportunity.
If it weren’t for today’s meeting, and because my wife needed the car, I would have missed out on walking the last mile through a part of town I don’t ordinarily trod.
What an enjoyable walk! Why don’t I do this more often? Recently, I’ve met several individuals who walk to work every day, and have been inspired. Last month I walked to work (six miles round trip) with a guy who also happens to be the frontman for a band called Glen’s Neighbor, finding him to be an individual of unusual depth. I’ll share that story with you soon.
And so, I urge you, dear brother or sister, to walk a mile in another man’s shoes. Imagine life from their vantage point. In an era of shocking divisiveness and divides, we would do well to build more bridges.
Start today by walking more. Be observant. Feel free to be ambition-less in your walking. You don’t need a purpose. Begin by placing one foot in front of the other.
The founder of Life House, Mary Robillard, did just this back in the late ’80s. Her son invited a friend over for a sleep over on a Friday night. Saturday came, the friend never left, and Mary thought to herself, “I guess this is going to be a weekend sleepover.” When Sunday afternoon came and went, her son finally shared the truth. His friend had nowhere to go.
Robillard was just a normal person, who, like most of us, lacked significant wealth or social standing. This one person, with help, was able to found Life House in 1991 (about two years after the sleepover). It’s an incredible story. One I am eager to tell.
But, like a photograph that never seems to convey just how beautiful that sunset was, the telling of the story almost always seems deficient. These stories are limited by my abilities, word count, my perspective that only catches the soul of a place or person from a given angle, and more.
My hope is that such stories merely serve as an introduction to pique the reader’s interest to explore further and discover more for themselves.
Start walking today.