“See Ya Tomorrow!”
by Helene Swanson
When I embarked on this Pilgrimage for the ERA I knew it would be difficult. Difficult is an understatement! As I slowly make my way from the Golden Gate bridge to Washington D.C. I pray for those whom I care for and those I have met in the course of day to day affairs. My dear friend, the Rev. Kathryn Piccard, has taught me to pray for those who have harmed me in some way, shape or form.She advises me to pray honestly, even explicitly, for these people, every time I think of them, for up to two weeks. But if others around, I have to do it silently! And it helps.
This pilgrimage is testing every aspect of my being and my faith in God. And it is affirming my faith in God as well. As a person who believes in the law of attraction I put my focus on accentuating the positive in all my relationships. My time in Arizona is a testament to my beliefs and my evolving relationship with God and her people. I had always believed that I understood and had compassion for those who live alternative lifestyles, in particular, the causation of those who live outdoors un-housed. My time in Phoenix has given me the gift of walking in the shoes of the economically disadvantaged and sharing the pain of my Hispanic friends who are treated differently because of the color of their skin.
I thought that it would be easy when I arrived in Phoenix. Easy like it was when I was going through Nevada. It wasn’t. I arrived late Sunday afternoon and made my way over to the Cathedral just in time for Compline. I was deeply moved by the service and thought I would wait ’til the following day to reach out to folks at the diocese. A big mistake, most of the folks at the Diocese of Arizona were leaving on vacation since it was the week of July 4th, 2014, so I was left in a lurch. Fortunately, a young man with some mental health challenges befriended me. He showed me around and suggested that I go to Grace Lutheran Church for clothing and food. So I did. I wound up sticking around and volunteering all week. I grew close to community of the Respite Cooling Center. I came in every morning around 7:30 am and helped out all day until 5:00pm. It was a deeply moving experience. I observed first hand in a way I had not done before, as a homeless person with no place to go and insufficient monies due to budget constraints to get a hotel room or a decent bite to eat. It was humbling. The volunteers and those they serve at the center became “family” taking me in.
“Shorty,” a Latino born and raised in Tuscon shared his story with me. Reared by his grandparents and uncle, he took to becoming a young gangster by the age of eight, dropping out of school. At the age of 11 he married a young Mexican girl he snuck across the border. By 15 he was a father of three. At 19 he killed a man in a bar room brawl in self-defense. He fled the country to live in Mexico but being a devout Roman Catholic came back and turned himself in. The judge who sentenced him said had he not fled he would only be giving him seven years but he was to be an example, so he got the maximum: 25 years. He served the full 25 years, day by day. While in prison he was cornered in the bathroom where his jaw was broken and he subsequently lost all his teeth. Upon release, not having a proper education and being illiterate and a convicted felon he was unable to find gainful employment. He has lived the last 15 years on the streets of Phoenix. He never developed a relationship with his children although his daughter lived in the area. Shorty took me in. He shared his campsite with me. At the end of each day we headed over to the public library where I worked on reaching out to various organizations in anticipation of my meeting with Senator McCain. Shorty worked on word puzzles attempting to sound out the words he was searching for to increase his vocabulary, a hobby he picked up in prison. Shorty is also known as “Pa” by a number of the younger folks who go to the Grace Lutheran Summer Respite Cooling Center. One young couple who stayed at Shorty camp during the dust and rain storms of monsoon season is expecting their first child together. The young lady grew up in foster care having been taken away from her mother as one of her mothers many boyfriends had molested her. Her foster mother saw her as “Cinderella” and she was put to work taking care of the other foster kids who the woman was receiving a good amount of money from the state to house. She said she would clean up after everyone and each night go out to wander the streets. As long as she was back by morning no one cared that she was gone all night. Her partner arrived in Phoenix a few months ago from the Midwest. He deals with his childhood traumas by doing a drug called spice, an easily acquired street drug in the same family of bath salts. One night he begged her to hit him over and over again, claiming that would teach him a lesson. That it would help him to not to spend the little money they had on drugs. It was a difficult night for all. Shorty would shake his head, the young man begging over and over to be hit, and the young woman complying with her punches. I prayed for this family, my Phoenix Street family. I was quickly bought into the fold and asked to volunteer being a friend of Shorty. Each day the program director gathered us together to go over what we needed to concentrate on. We discuss what went wrong the day before and how to best prevent it from happening again. Occasionally, when there was a problem such as someone being too intoxicated or being too argumentative Carlos, the program director would address the issue immediately. He would clearly state that they would have to leave, but only for the day. Always saying, “See ya tomorrow.” At the end of each day when it was time to clean-up the bathrooms, wipe off the table and chairs, vacumn, we all pitched in, and no one had to ask to do anything. We all just worked together in quiet. And when we were done putting things up, again Carlos would say, “See ya tomorrow!”
I met the other volunteers. One husband and wife came in every day. He ran the movies while she prepared the food. He also fixes everyone’s electronic gadgets, being a retired computer programmer for a banking institution and former professional baseball player. Their tireless dedication was truly an inspiration. Another took her day off from the local military base to serve in the kitchen, and yet another came to lead the prayer service. And even more to staff the clothing room.
I could see myself serving this community for the rest of my life. It was hard leaving them to prepare for my meeting at Senator McCain’s office with other concerned Arizona voters organizing for the ERA. But I had to move on. I will carry the promise of another day to serve God and her people as we say at Grace Lutheran “See ya Tomorrow.”