With or without deep human connections, is all the difference...
When I began my years of service in the "Chinatown" of Salinas, with the hungry, homeless, and otherwise marginalized, it was with a youthful fervor that had me thinking that I would / could do something really grand: like end homelessness... But thirty years after those first 65 egg-salad sandwiches given away on a street corner, (I had changed) and I was asking student volunteers as to what they thought the definition of "homeless" was. Invariably, the answers would be sensible, like "Homeless is to be unhoused", or "Homeless is to be too poor to afford rent", obviously correct answers, as far as they went...
After a pregnant pause, I would offer my definition,"To be homeless means that no one would even notice if you simply disappeared..." Latching onto Peter Maurin's favorite word "radical", and his preferred definition of "going to the roots" of a problem, I could see clearly that this "with or without" of deep human connections was the be-all of any possible potential of a positive human life experience. I had learned that I was on the Chinatown streets to be that vital connecting link for horribly lonely lives -- and discovering at the same time a vast cave of emptiness in myself that ended up being filled by the love returned to me by my sisters and brothers whom I served... Wouldn't you know it, but the "server" ends up receiving far more than he / she ever gives...
Sure, over the course of my thirty-odd years on the street, we had served over two million meals, opened a number of shelters, and began numerous other projects, but what I learned was the absolute importance of human connection and touch, of seeing into the eyes of the folks coming to us for help, and just as importantly, of listening to their individual stories... As the years went by, I was cooking less and less, and most of my days were given over to just talking with our guests: and this is what I really want to say: while love is extolled as the be-all / end-all of our lives, that truth is a tad bit off the mark: it is, rather (or more), "I see you and I'm amazed!" This is it! This is what we all crave!
Yep: a life without a home is a miserable life indeed: but what makes for a home? A life without the security of a food source, or of intentional-other-person-sex, is likewise a miserable form of existence. But to go through a seemingly endless string of days without the divine pleasure of another human being communicating in their own way, "I see you and I'm amazed!" is to be functionally homeless -- even if one is living indoors somewhere, perhaps even in the midst of a crowd...
Shifting once again back to Maurin's "radical", it is only the "deeply homed", the folks who have, or have a reasonable hope to again experience "home", who can summon the will or intention to expand the boundaries of their compassion to include a multitude of "others", possibly up to the mystic "everyone". The fundamental human hunger for "being wanted", for experiencing the wonder of another set of eyes to be looking at "me" exclaiming, "I see you and I'm amazed!" is the only solution to the problems that we face as persons, as communities, and as entire peoples. If one is not "deeply homed" in being wanted, how the hell is that person going to summon the grace of believing immigrant Dreamers are worthy of our American fellowship? If one is not "deeply homed" in being wanted, why the hell would that person imagine social justice, economic equality, environmental regeneration, as necessities for everyone? The personal is ultimately profoundly social, and the social is inescapably linked to the well-being of the person: every person. To understand this, is to become sincerely radicalized: everyone and everything matters.
Robert Daniel Smith was privileged to serve the homeless and marginalized for 30 years in Salinas, California. Together with his wife, Michelle, they founded an intentional community called the 'Companions of the Way', also in Salinas. Robert and Michelle are community organizers, Catholic Worker renegades, sacred activists, writers, poets, artists, Divine Mother devotees, and practitioners of Kriya Yoga as taught by Rev. Ellen Grace O'Brian of the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment. Michelle is also a Montessori public school teacher. Robert is also an ordained Interfaith Minister.