One night, a few Saturdays ago, was a cultivation of all my experience throughout the semester with homelessness. This night was the Sleep-Out at the Inner Harbor. While I was not familiar with poverty and homelessness before coming to college, I thought I had learned a great deal from doing Care-A-Van, participating in Student Orientation to Service, and working at Health Care for the Homeless. However, I was mistaken. The Sleep-Out taught me more in one night and opened my eyes to more harsh realities of homelessness than all of my service this semester. The most important thing in serving, simple yet necessary, is that of being fully present.
The night started out with speakers presenting their stories, singing songs, and reciting poetry. People experiencing homelessness were invited to spend the night with us, as it was permitted and safe, and they participated in the events. After the structured part of the evening ended, the small group of Loyola gathered to reflect and then play Catchphrase. While still educational and fun, up to this point I felt like the Sleep-Out was nothing extremely special. However, a few hours later that all changed.
After everyone else had gone to sleep, or attempted to do so, my friend and I were talking on the side. A couple came up to us, desperately in need, and repeatedly asked for food, coffee, and blankets. They were frantic and it was obvious they had been through a lot. I got them food and coffee, but the sleeping bag donations had run out so my friend gave them hers. They then began worrying where they were going to sleep that night. When I told them they could sleep with us, because it was safe and guarded, they began crying were overjoyed. After they curled up by the cement wall, I was overcome with emotion. People like this couple face the questions of where to sleep, get food, and be safe on a daily basis. We were only there for one night, but what about all the other nights? From the Baltimore community being there just one night, so many people were helped; this couple and many more.
Later on in the night, a homeless person had a seizure. He was alright, but he went away in the ambulance that was called. I was told he had been having them for two months, but if we weren’t there what would have happened? Where would he have been? Just because we were there for one night, he was able to get the help he needed. I thought about all the other people out on the streets, and the dire consequences of what would happen if they had an emergency. Again, I was overcome with emotion.
I thought about the world’s serious issues, and how they seem impossible to solve. I doubted my attendance there at the Sleep-Out and in some of my service because they had no direct effect on solving the problems at hand, on a bigger scale. I wondered why people do not care more about homelessness and poverty, as it is an obvious problem in society. I felt helpless and angry, a terrible combination. I was venting all my emotions to my friend when a homeless man who was there for the Sleep-Out walked over to us.
It was around two in the morning at this point. The man, Timothy, began talking to us and asking questions about what we had learned from the night. He got the hint of my troubles and told me something I will never forget. He said that my presence is enough. Tim explained that every little step I, and others like me, make are deeply appreciated and contribute towards the bigger picture, whether noticed or not. If we give up, no one else will step up and try to solve the world’s tremendous adversities. For almost three more hours, Tim talked to my friend and me about this, and other things.
I did not sleep a single second that night. Although I was a little cranky in the morning, I am grateful that I did not. Tim even said, as he looked at all the people sleeping on the ground, that my friend and I gained more out of the Sleep-Out than they would ever dream of. He was right. I learned that my doing service, and doing all that I can for every person around me, helps even in the smallest amount. Although though there were no news stations there or politicians that night aided the couple, the man who had the seizure, and even me; all because we were just there.
Being fully present wherever one goes is the greatest lesson I learned this semester through service. A simple smile, heartfelt conversation, or deep reflection can mean more to someone than making the government aware of the issue at hand. Wanting to go to places like the Sleep-Out, not for personal satisfaction, but for the benefit of others and educational advantages is what truly makes moments memorable and worthwhile.