Sunday, May 31, 2009

Lessons from the Poor

On June 17th, Los Angeles will no longer be my home. After spending a bit of time with friends and loved ones, I will arrive in Portland exactly two years after I left, never assuming I would seek out the city again. And from that point, I hope to earn some money doing whatever I have to do that's legal so I can travel to different Catholic Workers and intentional communities around the country and--eventually--the world. I hope to get some writing in along the way, reflecting on my two formative years here in LA. And I know I will be searching for what I need from a community and what I need from a city. Although, I'm sure more questions will arise along my nondescript pilgrimage.

The hardest part so far has been telling the guys down at the kitchen. Albeit flattering, their complete disapproval of my departure forces out suppressed tears and resurrects a forgotten feeling of doubt--the same doubt I struggled with when leaving Portland for Los Angeles. Reactions include the following:

"The sun hasn't shined since you broke the news of leaving... [starts singing] Ain't no sunshine when she's gone..."

"I think I have a chain. Now I just have to find someone who has a manacle so I can tie you to the kitchen. I'll give you a 30' radius."
(another man in response) "Yea, enough for her to get to a piano."

"Oh yea, you're young! Enjoy the world!"

"I'm gonna miss you like the desert misses the rain."

"Oh no! Why?!"

These men from the Hippie Kitchen have not only claimed territory on my heart, but they have managed to grab such a strong hold that I can feel our desperate clinging as I prepare to leave.

Within the past few weeks, I have essentially demanded that I be at the kitchen at least two of the three kitchen days each week. I have kept my eyes panning across the garden for long-lost guests of whom I have been thinking recently. I have created a mental list of guests I want to tell personally that I am leaving soon, yet have delayed a good amount of conversations out of pure grief.

The men and women from the Hippie Kitchen have been the most formative aspect of my time in Los Angeles. They, the outcasts and forgotten of our society, invited me into the intimate details of their lives, demonstrating trust and openness--two qualities, I now realize, I was not offering. They furthered my commitment to nonviolence upon my seeing the plethora of veterans fighting PTSD and other war-related syndromes 35 years after their tours. They challenged and restored my faith in a God who loves us unconditionally. They gave me a reason to be passionate about the work to which I dedicated my past two years.

To see any homeless individual now and not attribute Jesus, dignity, hope and persistence would be to deny all of my experience through the LACW. I am blessed to have worked for these men and women who have so much to give, so much to say, so much love in their hearts, that (for all us Christians) it is indeed sinful to see them for anything less than a true manifestation of Christ's image.

So I prepare to journey and let my heart be torn apart by more wonderful men and women who face strife within an unrelently harsh culture. More tears and more restoration of purpose are in the cards, I'm sure. Maybe I'm just giving my heart to the poor so I can show love over and over again; and, to show the smallest bit of solidarity with their pain, my heart can be broken again and again in return.