To be completely honest, the hangouts that I do at the homeless shelter are not all sunshine and rainbows. They get peppered with all the variability of the ups and downs of my personal
thinking, including what I make up about what’s working, what’s not working, how I can often feel inadequate for the task, and why I “think” the hangouts can sometimes be challenging to do.
But one of the things that I just LOVE about the work at the shelter, is all of the unexpected ways in which I see human wisdom
and wellbeing rising to the surface, allowing the clients to survive another day through often very unfavourable circumstances. And so along with seeing the daily miracles of their innate resilience, many of which I likely miss noticing, there sometimes
appears some examples of the “every-day-miraculous” that have me pondering the wonders and workings of the universe.
This story started a few weeks ago when a participant (mentioned in a previous blog) shared the profound insight… “I just realized I’ve been a teacher all my life. I even taught my mother how to be
I’ve been reflecting on that insight since he said it,
and just yesterday had my awareness expanded once again, when another person (let’s call her Donna), afforded me the immense privilege of hearing some heartfelt stories of just how true that participant’s insight was.
Donna had been to one of the hangouts before. After hearing some of her wisdom the first time we chatted, I was secretly
hoping I would see her again. And this week when she reappeared, it was an extra special treat… Not only because she showed up, but because she was the only one who did. That meant that we had the opportunity to chat one-to-one. As well, since the classroom
was not available, we got to hang out in the “quiet room”… a place normally reserved for individuals who need some time for quiet reflection. With big comfy chairs and lovely décor, the room is more like a small, cozy living room... an
oasis amidst the loud and institutional feeling in the rest of the shelter. And so we both grabbed a coffee, and sat back and chatted.
I listened with fascination as she easily shared many parts of her life story, starting with some extremely challenging circumstances when she was very young. As a consequence, she learned how to survive by isolating
herself from others and by fighting back. And so in a continual state of not caring about the world because the world didn’t care about her, she spent much of her life moving through a never-ending series of foster care homes, group homes,
institutions, and jails.
After trying to commit suicide nine times, going through
the painful recovery each time, and even being revived once after being dead for at least 15 minutes, she kept on wondering why God would not let her die. What could possibly be the purpose in keeping her alive?
Eventually at some point, she started getting thoughts that if she wasn’t going to be allowed to die, then she didn’t
want to live her life anymore like she had lived it in the past. It occurred to her that the only way to get better, was to find a way to get over the trauma of her past. And then being more open to the help of a few people who appeared in her life, who she
eventually began to trust (including a psychologist and a care worker), her life began to change.
She began getting access to personal insights that were helping her understand some of her past, and helping her to not always respond to the suffering thoughts and anger that still appeared in her head. She began getting some new perspectives
on what her past was all about, who she was, and what she could be in the future. And although she was still having anxious thoughts about slipping back to her past behaviours, she was clearly experiencing many new glimmers of hope.
And besides the insights gained from her own thinking, some new perspectives about her past began
coming from some unexpected sources, including two events that demonstrate the profound truth of the fact that “everyone is a teacher for others”.
Somewhat recently, a man reached out to Donna via Facebook, out of the blue. She hadn’t heard from him in 30+ years, having known him from one of the institutions
she was in when she was a teenager. At the time, he was a young man starting out in social work who ended up being “broken” by Donna's behaviour. Surprisingly, he reached out to her because he wanted to thank her.
He explained that if she hadn’t been so difficult to deal with, he never would have realized that
he just wasn’t cut out for social work. He would have stuck it out and been miserable. Instead, because she was so difficult, and because he found himself unable to cope, he left social work and found his passion in being a very successful lawyer and
business man. He had thought a lot about Donna over the years and wanted to thank her for her part in helping him learn about himself.
And then unexpectedly, another person reached out to her from the distant past. This time it took a while for her to remember who he was, but after some back and forth discussion, she figured it out. And again, it was
a once young man who had worked with her. He also wanted to tell her how much he thought about her over the years and how much he wanted to thank her. In this case she didn’t break him. In fact, the reason why he was so thankful for her was because he
realized that if he could handle her, he could handle anyone. And since then he has gone on to a successful career helping many of the suffering in community, creating new programs and building new centres to provide care in some of the most challenged communities
Wow... just wow! I could see how these two stories deeply
touched her, giving her the richer perspective that purpose can come out of an often tragic and painful life, and that we can never know how our lives can profoundly influence the lives of others. And as she shared these stories, they deeply touched me as
As I reflect again now, as with many at the shelter, Donna is my teacher
too. Hearing her stories gives me another view for my own experience of life.
stories give me another possible perspective for making sense out of my own behaviours of the past. How and what did others learn when my behaviours were the worst and when they were the best?
Her stories also give me another possible perspective for making sense out of others’ behaviours of the
past. How and what did I learn about myself and about them, when their behaviours were the worst and when their behaviours were the best?
And even more importantly, her stories give me pause to reflect on the teachers I’m learning from today. So when I happen to have anger or frustration or any sort of judgment for any of the behaviours
of others, what am I learning about myself, and what am I possibly NOT YET learning about them?
Who are your teachers, and what are they teaching you?