I am sitting in a coffee shop in Seattle feeling right at home—comfy chair, milky tea, and good music. There are few better mornings than a walk through a new city to land in a place like this. This is my living room, and thankfully, I can find it almost anywhere. It seems that God has created me to be a wanderer, and the journey to new places makes my heart happy and makes me feel so alive. (random side note: recently read Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World where she talks about getting lost/going new places as a spiritual discipline, strongly recommend it)
I’m in Seattle for the next few weeks as a part of a volunteer work camp. I will be working a few nights a week at ROOTS, which is a homeless shelter for young adults. They provide shelter for 25 people each night, ranging in age from 18-25. Most of the regular volunteers are university students, so we are here to help fill in during the summer.
I basically started yesterday; we started with conflict de-escalation training and general volunteer training. I am inclined to find the humor in any situation, and let me say that conflict de-escalation was no exception. I sat in front of a guy who said “Word” any time he agreed with the presenter, which was often. Loved that. The training was really good, and most of the information and tools we learned were extremely helpful. However, at one point the presenter did suggest we could hop up and down when dealing with someone who’s mentally ill or delusional. What? I mean, I guess that’s a good way to use body language to communicate, “Hey, I’m on your team. We’re all crazy here.”
Then we did everybody’s favorite, role playing with strangers. I was chosen to pretend to be a meth addict who thought I had bugs coming out of my skin for an audience of 20 strangers (shoot me). So there I am in my acting debut screaming and pretending to have elaborate hallucinations, and this shy woman in my group with limited English is playing the part of the staff member who is supposed to intervene. Unsure of what to say or do, she just stands there and stares at me. Forever. So unfortunately, the show must go on. After what feels like an eternity of me screaming and dancing, the trainer stops the madness. It was ridiculous. Then at the end of the three-hour training we each had to say the best thing we learned that day, and the woman said her best part was learning to deal with me, the girl with the bugs. Of course it was, glad I could help out. My life is a comic strip. Add another frame. (The only thing that could have made the situation better would have been if she had started hopping. Too bad she didn’t think of that.)
Anyway, the comedy of conflict de-escalation training also served as good bonding for me and my team. Thankfully we didn’t know each other well enough to laugh about it in the moment, but afterwards, we reveled in the shared awkwardness of what we’d just done. My team is made up of a girl from the states and a guy from Belgium, and we get herded around by a woman who works at the shelter who takes really good care of us. Thus far, it’s been great. We are all pretty laid back and flexible, and we like to laugh and eat good food and wander the city together. My living situation is pretty great, too. I live in a condo downtown with a very kind host family, not exactly what I was expecting from my first volunteer work camp, but a pleasant surprise.
Then last night was the highlight of our time so far; we all got to work the evening program at the shelter, which is basically all the stuff that happens before lights out: checking people in, getting them bedding, toiletries, clothing, etc., and feeding them dinner. I got to work in the kitchen doing my favorite thing, feeding people. It was great. The other volunteers were friendly and helpful, and the homeless guests felt sort of familiar, like friends I know, kids I’ve taught, me. That seems to be part of the take-home message of my many trips all over the world doing these sorts of things; at the end of day, on some fundamental level we are all the same. And I like that.
Tonight I’m working my first overnight shift at the shelter, should be interesting. I’ll do my best to keep you friends posted. We’ll see. I don’t want to sacrifice the opportunity to live life for the chance to write about it. Hopefully there will be ample time to do both. ;)