Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Lessons of Finding Hope in the Dark

Three AM has always been my nemesis.

It is the time of morning when I awoke every night for a year after my mother’s death, jolted into alertness by wrenching abdominal pains that appeared like clockwork. It took some time to determine that the pains were caused by grief and not physical illness, but 3 AM has become the number on the clock that has always tormented me because whenever something is troubling me I always find myself awake at that time.

For the past two years 3 AM has taken on a new significance, because twice now it has been the hour when I have found myself alone in the dark, huddled in a sleeping bag with fuzzy socks on my hands to ward them from the cold, trying to sleep on a hard metal bench or the damp ground. For the past two years, you see, I have spent one night sleeping outdoors as a participant in Hope in the Dark, the homelessness awareness event hosted by the local Centre of Hope.

I have had the good fortune to spend time with some of our local homeless population. I have learned some incredible lessons from them, and not just the value of fuzzy socks for keeping your hands warm when the nights have turned cold. I have learned of the fine line between being homed and homeless, and the community that the homeless create on the streets to help each other endure an existence that can be, at times, brutal.

I have met homeless individuals who have been homeless not for months, but years. I have met those who have slept in tents when it is 30 degrees below, and during our harshest seasons. I have met those who are homeless due to substance abuse, mental illness and physical injury. I have met a broad spectrum, elderly adults and youth not much older than my own daughter. And it has changed me.

A couple of weekends ago I was in Toronto. One evening the Intrepid Junior Blogger and I walked by a pile of blankets sheltered in a doorway. All we could see of the tenant of the blankets were two hiking boot covered feet - and a sign that said "pregnant and homeless, please help".

It was a wrenching moment. The IJB looked at me and said: "That's so sad, what can we do?", and I looked at her, my baby, and told her that I would think about it.

I remember being pregnant, you see. I remember the joy and the fear and the excitement. I can imagine those feelings all over again, but one thing I cannot imagine is being pregnant and homeless. And so very early the next morning while it was still dark and while the IJB slept, I went back to that doorway and left a bag of healthy food near the blankets, fruits and vegetables and meat for protein. I hope the occupant found it when she awoke, as it was the only gesture that made sense to me, because I felt so very helpless and yet I knew I needed to do something.

You see that is what the Centre of Hope and Hope in the Dark has done for me. They have made me see things I did not see before, and the things that far too many of us walk right by, the hand-lettered signs and the piles of blankets. They have made me realize that while I alone cannot solve the problem of homelessness I alone can engage in small acts of kindness that may make a difference in the life of one homeless individual.

This weekend on the same evening as Hope in the Dark our community will celebrate a milestone and achievement with a glittering gala event. I attend a lot of those in this community, and they are wonderful affairs, and so truly worthy of recognition. My favourite annual event, though, is one far from red carpets and Jimmy Choo shoes and swanky décor. It is an event that takes place in a park downtown, where the IJB and I set up camp and settle into our sleeping bags tucked inside cardboard boxes. I watch as she sleeps, the baby I once carried inside me, and I think about that fine dividing line between us and the homeless in our community.

And there is a moment, around 3 am, when clarity hits me, just when the skies above are filled with shimmering stars and the stark truths of life assail me. This year I will probably think about a homeless woman in Toronto sleeping in a doorway. I hope she found the bag of food I left and I hope she saw it for what it was - a tiny bit of hope in the dark.

Join us at the annual
The Intrepid Junior Blogger
Hope in the Dark 2013


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