Beckoned by the need to do kindness for others, I organized a group to visit “tent city.” Tent city is exactly as it sounds, a sea of tents pitched underneath a long stretch of highway.
The floor is dirt, with the only protections from the weather being the overhead highways, thundering vehemently with cars. The air is cold and wet; the smell of trashcan fires all around you. The taste of soot in your mouth is quickly overruled by your bodies desire to stay warm.
For the last two weeks we (my friends, family and I) happily gathered for their expected needs; a sense of accomplishment felt with each item. It was like shopping for a dear friends birthday, wanting to get exactly that one thing they needed or wanted the most, while balancing a tiny budget.
I will not lie and tell you it was worry free. I knew it could take me back to the days of my home-insecurity some 30 years earlier. A time when I was ill with addiction. I also knew it could bring feelings of despair for the people living there and possibly hopelessness when I returned home to the comfort & security of my warm apartment without all of these lives in tote.
Still, I could not turn my back any longer on the ominous weather predictions for the coming days.
Sorting, bagging and careful prep, have been the whole of my last two days. A little nervous and a bit apprehensive, but determined to follow through.
As we arrived at our destination, we were met with chilling winds, and yet, I did not feel the cold. We unloaded the cars and my little red wagon. We put the water bottles and hot boxes of coffee in the wagon and everyone grabbed several bags of supplies until we were full, and the cars were empty.
While I never had the desire to retreat at any point during the trip, I don’t think I ever got out of 4th gear. My ability to recall each interaction is gone and it’s hard to imagine we were there for close to three hours. It felt like it was, maybe, 20 minutes.
We only saw a portion of tent city. It was so vast, we were not prepared, nor did we have enough supplies to cover it today. Still we made it through at least 3 full sections.
I cannot speak for all that came, when I say there is not one word capable of describing it, but the interactions I had with everyone that came today, lead me to believe I was not alone in my awe.
We were met with humble, gracious, kind, people. We were met with humility and appreciation. I can not begin to share the disarming personalities we encountered.
It was hard to see how these people did not have any expectations. If they took one thing, they were content to move on, and were nearly shocked when we insisted that they take more. We were there much longer than I expected to empty our bags and wagon. There were many tents that I could not tell if they were occupied, in that moment or not, but sometimes no one responded to our offers of coffee or water so we moved on.
One man was only interested in water, because he was on his way to work. Another was the one left in charge of protecting the belongings of everyone in their group today. Another was in search of water for his dogs. Each had their own personality and story. Each would mark my heart.
At last count, I heard there were at least 300 tents. I have no doubt of that after today.
And while I would be thrilled to have many of the people I met today as a neighbor, I know that the best I can do for them is to get my “Achieving Independence Project” running, sooner rather than later.
When I finally got home tonight, my arms were weak and shaking…not the “I’m tired after a hard nights work” but the kind of shaking that comes after a complete emotional meltdown or a serious illness.
I would not trade today’s experience for anything, despite the fact that I’m sick to my stomach, wondering how they will come up with enough materials to burn in order to keep them warm through the night. Instead I’m propelled forward in my desire to make their campfire nights, some of the last they ever unwillingly do.
We plan to go back in a few weeks if our budget cooperates. Surely there will be more to share.