Hanging around the Love Wins Community Engagement Center, I get to witness some truly gorgeous moments, moments when the community shines. Each member has something different to contribute, and where one person lacks, another can fill in, and in this way, we support and care for each other. I am reminded that “without community, there is no liberation” (Audre Lorde).
Katie has been through the proverbial ringer. This is what I know of her story so far: She’s battled addiction, and she is now several years into sobriety. Her sobriety was hard-won; as you can imagine, it was not an easy road to walk. Navigating different treatment centers and the process of getting clean sounds to me like hell on earth.
Katie has fought custody battles, determined to regain the safekeeping of her daughter. Katie’s daughter lives with her now, well cared for by Katie and Katie’s wife. Our daughters are around the same age, and sometimes we compare notes on how we
pull our hair out love raising our pre-teen girls.
Katie also lives with illness and a learning disability, and sometimes it’s hard for her to focus her attention. But she’s aware of when she needs help, and leans on the community when necessary. I’d say she’s pretty excellent at self-governance.
You might guess that I’ve got a soft spot for Katie, and you would be right. Of course, she’s not perfect, as none of us are, but her kindness, toughness, and generosity always seem so bright, so luminous.
I’ve also got a soft spot for Billy, who Hugh draws a pretty accurate picture of below:
Billy is 27, but talking to him is a lot like talking to an obstinate 14 year old. He aged out of the foster care system when he turned 18, and since then, has lived on and off the streets. He is an easy target for every conman and hustler out there, so he gets ripped off a lot, and while he isn’t stupid, he is very naive. He is also addicted to crack cocaine.
And this description, of course, is just a small glimpse of who he is. There’s a sweetness to Billy layered in the complexity of his story, something that’s remained unhardened, soft. He also likes to roll down the car windows and listen to music really, really loud, singing along with unabashed enjoyment. He likes carnitas. He hates Wheat Thins.
One morning, Billy came into the Community Engagement Center, clearly agitated. When Billy is agitated, he might pace. He might curse. He might yell to vent his frustrations.
“God bless you!” he sometimes exclaims, for reasons which are not always clear, but it’s endearing nonetheless.
When Billy is like this, there is little I know to do to engage him. I want to, but it feels like he is in a world unfamiliar to me, a place I can’t authentically relate to. I do my best to offer compassion or support because I love him, but the shape of Billy’s experience of life is one I can’t fit into any known category of my own. So I often end up feeling helpless, wishing I knew the best way to be with Billy or the right thing to say.
So Billy was doing his pacing and exclaiming thing, and before any of the staff could say anything, Katie piped up.
“Sit down, Billy. And be quiet,” she commanded sternly.
As it turns out, she knew exactly the right thing to say. He sat down meekly.
“Give me a minute, and then let’s go take a walk and talk,” she said.
“Okay,” he agreed. “Let’s talk.”
Katie’s experiences, though not the same as Billy’s, give her an almost tangible authority to speak to him; I don’t think she would call herself his mentor, but that is how I see the way she cares for him.
Community is not unlike a peacock’s plumed feathers. You can’t help admiring a thing of beauty when you see it.