Recovery, Community: Refresh by Phoenix

Yesterday, April 2, 2016, I participated in another great homeless outreach with The Legacy Initiative, an amazing non-profit organization that has forever changed my life.

But, is it really that simple?

Yes, actually, it is that simple, but let me tell you the story to contextualize this.

Last month’s outreach was a catastrophe: I mean, a complete and utter disaster. I wrote a piece about it, called The Kosmos, which incorporated a lot of philosophy, more philosophy than usual, as a way of distancing myself from the painful memories attached to that outreach. Suffice to say, it went terrible: The volunteers were condescending to me, they undermined Legacy and our values (which stung for many reasons), they were disrespectful to the people we served, and I was left to fend for myself, and I did not succeed.

So, I have to admit that I went/walked to the kitchen (where we prepare the burritos) a little on edge, a little apprehensive. I was like, “How best to let everyone know that I’m literally burnt out right now, because I’m so depressed at how bad last month’s outreach went and that I’m frustrated and sad?” I kept going back and forth, being like, “You know Legacy and your Legacy family: They’ll embrace you with open arms and you’ll surround yourself by positive energy, and it will seriously be like nothing happened,” to “You should tell the truth so they know where you’re at, even if it’s hard: They’ll listen.”

I decided I was going to trust my community, my Legacy family, and not say what I felt unless it became relevant.

And I was surprised!

I’d forgotten that my neighbors from when I lived in Sandy were going to help out Legacy by getting supplies and food, as part of an Eagle Scouts project. So, I ran into these great neighbors, who I’ve known for a long time, and that immediately boosted my mood. We took a few pictures and caught up, talked a little bit about writing (much to my happiness, talked about what I consider to be my masterpiece, my autofiction The Street Kid), and the positive energy that Legacy Initiative manifests and makes reality. It has indeed become our trademark, our staple, the amazing energy that we as a community produce. It’s remarkable, really. I feel it every time I’m around my friends and community.

We had a lot of fun talking, and I was already feeling great.

I knew I could do this.

But it got even better.

I was invited to write not one, but two writing pieces about the pet outreach that happens once a week, every Sunday, and something that I admire Legacy for doing and pulling off so beautifully. Margie came to me and asked if I’d be comfortable writing a couple pieces about what they do, and I was like, “Shoot, yeah! I’m down!” And I was thinking, as Legacy’s personal journalist/writer, what a perfect fit that would be for me! I could write a piece about my experience doing a pet outreach (something I plan on doing in the very near future), and another piece for a journal/magazine. I don’t know where things are at right now, but the ideas are swirling in my, Margie’s, and Kimo’s mind, so who knows what will happen? But I certainly have high hopes, and I know it’s going to be great in the end.

But believe it or not, it gets even better. I talked to Stephanie for a little while, and she told me she really liked The Tao Te Ching, a book I bought for her to enjoy (as I love that book and am fascinated at its spiritual and philosophical undertones, and I wanted to share that wisdom with my great friend). We did an awesome Dubsmash to Everything Is Awesome, or something or other, and it was way fun.

I found out that, feeling much better at this point and recovering from last month’s catastrophe, I was going to get to lead a squad with Travis, down a new route! Something I was pleased to do.

We talked some more, all of us, and I felt proud and happy and content. I was ready for the outreach to commence.

Kimo was kind enough to give me a ride up to downtown Salt Lake, and we talked about what had happened last month. It came up casually, and Kimo was astounded at what had happened. He didn’t like that our values had been violated so blatantly. We had an interesting philosophical conversation about human freedom and responsibility. A good way to illustrate the point: We can do what we please, that’s true, but we don’t just throw burritos at people just because we feel like it. Not that this happened last time (though certainly metaphorically), but anyway, the implications with this analogy were rich and we teased them out, and I was left walking away with this understanding that we must never forget our responsibility, and the need for accountability. Yes, we are free to make our own choices, but there is a reason why Legacy demonstrates actively their values, and instills the values that we don’t pass judgement (as simple as that) and that we are there to serve. Which means it’s okay that I felt traumatized by last month’s many encounters, because it represented a complete breakdown in my group’s ethics and a complete undermining of what Legacy is and what Legacy seeks to do. I find all of that incredibly inspiring. Kimo was also encouraging, and got me in the mindset to tackle the issues head on, and prepare myself, and be amazing at it, because I love doing this work. I haven’t been welcome in any single other organization (and I’ve tried a lot of organizations, believe me) to help out, but Legacy has not only allowed me to serve with them and moved me around various positions, but they have also let me write for them, a big plus in my book, and something I’m very proud of and happy to do. It fulfills me.

I did the sign-up sheet at the table at the entrance of our area, and I highly appreciated Angie’s support. She encouraged me, said I was doing great, when I was honestly just winging it, but having her there was amazing, and she was helpful in many intelligent ways, and just having her there was honestly enough.

This, to me, is what community is. It’s not always about “doing something,” but simply being there to support another person. It’s amazing.

It gave me the chance to recover, to feel part of a great community of friends and people I love and respect dearly.

And another good thing? One of my best friends joined me at the outreach! We’ve had many philosophical discussions in the past, and it’s been great. It was nice having his company, and it boosted my mood even more.

But the actual outreach! All of these good feelings before I was even at the outreach! So perhaps I was getting too ahead of myself. How did I know the outreach itself was going to go great?

Well, because I was with Travis. But also because I was feeling that the community was strong as always, through Legacy and the volunteers.

We began to walk, and man … we walked a ton. My kind of outreach! Good for cardio. But anyway, it was super fun. I only had one tense moment, but it was more of a moment of confusion and is not even worth talking about.

But certainly, we walked down to Gateway, and met a lot of people. We passed out hygiene supplies, burritos with hot sauce, fruit such as oranges and apples, granola bars, and other necessities. They were kind (everyone!). This is partly because Travis is so good with people, but I must also give credit where credit is due: The people in our group, even though it was a large group, all stuck together, looked out for each other, and wanted to be there and were amazingly kind. This helped ease the tension that I felt last time, when I had some negative experiences and wasn’t welcomed by people we were serving until my group passed out the supplies (as I was seen as a threat). That didn’t happen this time, I was certainly not seen as a threat, and how great is that? Honestly, the group did all the work, though my contribution for a little while was passing out hot sauce packets.

But it got even better. The more we walked and talked, about various things as Rat Park (a scientific experiment) and addiction and the misunderstandings that surround addiction (it’s an issue of maladaption to the environment and people, not a brain problem or a moral failing: in other words, an unaccommodating society can create addiction in a person because they are unsupportive), the better I felt. I got to lead small squads occasionally when we split up, but having kind people at my side made a huge difference, and they did a ton of work that I appreciated, and they did great. They were naturals. They wanted to be there.

One touching moment was when we met a guy who needed our services, but asked about who we were. I promptly and openly explained we were The Legacy Initiative, a local non-profit that seeks to build bridges in the community and provide humanitarian aid where needed, as well as build community (because we must not take that for granted). And this man volunteered himself to join us one day. We told him we meet once a month on the first Saturday, I told him I write for Legacy and he could look up our website and see what we do, and he seriously offered to help out in the future. That was touching because he was in a tough spot and yet wanted to serve. It says a lot, and it speaks for itself.

I have tremendous respect for what I’ve seen, with what we do. Not every experience can be perfect, and thus this was a recovery period for me, but nonetheless, the community was real, and that’s something that Legacy succeeds at easily and elegantly (that is, building community). Such a thing cannot be taken for granted. It’s beautiful. It means a lot. It’s amazing. It’s honestly so, amazing. And beautiful.

We continued the outreach, I utilized my skills and wasn’t intimidated, and found my confidence again, especially working with Travis and his Batman bravery, and we got stuff done. And it was beautiful, I can’t stress that enough. It was amazing.

As I said, we walked far. We walked all downtown, and met many people, and had many great conversations, and I felt touched at what we accomplished and the experiences we had.

And indeed, in that sense, I couldn’t ask for more.

One final note: Legacy looked out for me. They knew I’d had a rough time last time, but they talked it over with me, helped me work through it, and did what they could to ensure I had a positive experience this time and didn’t take too much on. This is important. Some of our members have had troubles recently, such as Tedd’s heart issues, and while this work is amazing, it can lead to health problems if we’re not careful, because it’s really demanding work, something that many take for granted or don’t care to realize. And that’s important, that we look out for each other, to stay healthy and happy and content, and to do this honest work for all the right reasons.

And that’s certainly what I felt: My community looked out for me, and now I’m refreshed as a consequence of this.

And that to me, is the definition of selfless, and more importantly, the definition of love and compassion.

And now on to new adventures!