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Gentleness in Homelessness

Posted Apr 06 2010 12:00am
Gentleness is the antidote for cruelty. Phaedrus
It is just a small gesture. He looks at her. Lifts his hand. Touches her cheek. Softly. A gentle touch. Loving. Tender.

Pulling back to the larger view, you expect to see them sitting at a table in a fine restaurant. Or perhaps, in their candlelit dining room.

Pulling back, you see, the room is crowded. People move amongst the tables. Serving plates of food. Every chair is full. There's clatter and chaos and noise and voices arguing and voices speaking in hushed tones. There's activity everywhere, and still, he holds his hand against her cheek. Gently. She closes her eyes. Moves her cheek closer to the palm of his hand.

A quiet intimate moment amidst the chaos of the Day Area of the homeless shelter where I work.

Gentleness amidst the daily grind of making ends meet when there's nothing in the middle to connect the emptiness of a life at the end of poverty.

It is, I think, an unexpected place to find such a small, simple gesture. But then, the unexpected is always happening at a shelter. The unexpected took up residence long ago and hasn't been able to pack its bags since arriving in from the cold, surprised to find itself in this place, lacking all knowledge of how to be, how to get by, how to survive in homelessness.

Another moment. Another tableau.

A woman readies her bed in the Intox area. She's inebriated. Unsteady on her feet. As she stuffs her purse under her pillow, its contents spill out onto the six inch space between the end of her matt and the end of the next one row over. Amongst the spillage, a glass bottle of perfume. It rolls across the concrete floor. The lid falls off and the scent of sickly sweet perfume fills the air. The woman moans. Flops down on her matt. Hangs her head. Starts to cry. Defeated. The act of gathering up spilled perfume too much for her. She surveys the mess. A mascara wand, compact, kleenex, candy wrapper. The perfume leaves a moist trail of evidence between her matt and the next.

Another client, equally as under the influence, stumbles over. In her hand she holds a small teddy bear. It's long past the season, but the bear is still dressed for Christmas. Red bow. Santa hat jauntily set to the side. The woman trips over a matt and almost falls onto the crying woman. She laughs. Rights herself. Stumbles towards her and holds out the teddy bear. "Here," she slurs. "This'll make it better."

And she passes the woman the bear. Her smile as crooked as the bear's Santa hat.

Moments of tenderness. Moments filled with the gentleness of the human spirit sharing what little it has to provide succor to a fellow traveller on this road of life.

I am always touched by these tender moments at the shelter. Touched but not surprised. At the worst of the human condition is always the capacity for human tenderness. For a gentle touch. A shared gift. An expression of caring. Of wanting to make it better for someone else.

It is the human spirit's calling. To be tender. To share its gentleness.

St. Francis de Sales once said, "Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.”

Nothing is so important to the human spirit than to share its gentle nature. To be the whisper of God reminding us of our heritage. To offer its tender soul like a kiss upon the heart that provides solace in the meanest of times, that raises hope in the darkest of times, that lights the path back to our human being through all time.

I see it everyday in this cold, hard place called homeless.

Today is Blog Carnival Tuesday sponsored by Bridget Chumbley of One Word at a Time and Peter Pollock of Rediscovering the Church . Held every second Tuesday, Blog Carnival is an online event open to anyone. The moderator's provide a one-word prompt or topic and you're invited to write, from your heart out, a poem, a piece of prose, a song, a sonnet, a line.

This week's prompt is "gentleness".

Go here to read and be inspired by the contributions from writers all over the world. New entries will be listed throughout the day and sometimes through to the end of the week. My favourite Tuesday night activity is to take my laptop to bed and devour Blog Carnival! It's a sublime evening of great words, thoughtful minds and inspiring writing.

Visit Blog Carnival's FaceBook page here .
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