Friday, July 27, 2012

How the Story Ends?

The Olympics are here again and, depending on your perspective, the next couple weeks will either be a time of riveting fascination with your eyes fixed upon what's happening across the pond. Or you(if you are like my 8 year old) will be upset because your regular scheduled viewings of SpongeBoB and Gravity Falls will be put on hiatus so those around you can pretend to be interested in numerous sporting events to which they likely don't even know the rules. Anyway... it is time for nations all across this planet to gear up and out-compete one another.

Watching these amazing athletes in the prime of their careers is an inspiring thing. They have worked hard and devoted an incredible amount of time and energy into honing their crafts which lead them to the world stage. They are well-tuned machines of athletic supremacy...the best of the best x 10. It is hard to imagine weakness or vulnerability is even in their vocabulary. But how long will this last? Current glory is not an automatic qualifier for future success. I was doing some research for another article when I came across this story from chronicling the tales of some formerly successful athletes. Homelessness is not predictable and can affect anyone for a number of reasons:

Anyone can become homeless. Especially now in these incredibly challenging economic times, many of us are living paycheck-to-paycheck. It is difficult to save money and even more impossible to plan for unforeseen circumstances that could demand a stronger financial burden. We are all at risk. Even those of us who are seemingly financially stable and who have ample support.

Back in July, we wrote about "Sugar Ray" Williams, a 10-year veteran of the NBA who is currently homeless and living in his car. Sugar Ray played basketball in the late 70s to mid 80s, and although the salaries were not as astronomically high as they are now, he had fame, fortune and potentially endless resources available to him. Yet even with all of this "cushion," he is homeless.

Former World Middleweight boxing champion Iran "The Blade" Barkley is living in a hotel in the Bronx. He had a 17-year boxing career in the 80s and 90s before retiring in 1999. Barkley made $5 million during his career. Until recently, he was living in his childhood apartment with his niece. When he was unable to contribute to the household financially, he was locked out. Now he relies on the support of some close friends to continue to stay in a low cost hotel for another night.His story is not at all uncommon.  Except that he is a retired successful athlete.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Art of Vacationing

When I was a kid, living on the east coast, my family would go on vacation every summer to a certain beach in South Carolina. My parents, my younger sister, my chain-smoking grandmother, and I would all cram into our Oldsmobile (the one with no air conditioning and safety windows that only rolled down half way in the back seat) to make the 8 hour trek to the ocean. It was an event that would have made Chevy Chase tear up with jealousy because my father was the only man on the planet who could complicate things more than Clark Griswald.

The idea was that a vacation consisted of moving from point A to point B. It didn't matter if we fought the whole way there or were forced to participate in activities that bordered on the absurd. It would be 110 degrees with suffocating humidity and we would have to hold a vigil on the beach every day from 9-5 simply because we were on vacation. Sunburns, jellyfish stings, sand chafing unspeakable areas? Suck it up and enjoy yourself because it was vacation time!

I look back now and realize that my parents were doing everything in their power to provide some great memories for me. I can't fault them for being generous and trying to have a little fun with their family. However, I think their idea of what a vacation should be was a little off. For them, as long as we went somewhere other than our sleepy little town in West Virginia, we were on vacation. For other people vacations are synonymous with 'doing nothing.' Any substantial break in the rigors of a busy life constitutes a vacation because the person is now afforded an opportunity to rest. These are both fair points and wonderful elements of a vacation. But, ultimately, I think they miss the point.

The root of the word vacation is vacate. There is an element of leaving somewhere to go somewhere else, but it is not just a physical separation. How many times have we packed up, moved timezones, checked into a great hotel, and then spent an obscene amount of time dwelling on the circumstances we left at our home address? We have physically vacated the premises, but mentally we are still tethered to the office or our social clubs or anything else.

I bring all this up (ah ha... there is a point) because I was talking to a friend a few days ago and he asked what our residents did during the day. I told him some of them stayed in and some of them went out. He sarcastically replied that it must be nice to live like "you were on vacation all the time." You see, he was confusing inactivity with vacationing. I told him it he was right...

It must be nice for our residents to sit around all day and remember a time when they weren't homeless and had gainful employment. How wonderful for them to go to our communal dining area, pour some instant coffee and then kick back and reflect upon the mounting bills that resulted in their current situation. It was impossible for our residents to vacate anything because everything was a reminder that their situation was not going anywhere.

...and I wonder why people aren't lining up around the corner to be my friend!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Date With (Culinary) Destiny

Okay... the time of hiding behind this blog is officially coming to an end. I must admit that I enjoy writing these articles because I can always log off and go about my day once I'm finished. Well, this Thursday (the 19th) Samaritan House will have a booth at ThursdayFest in Kalispell, so a couple of us will be manning a table.

My goal is to sell thousands upon thousands of our new cookbook, Come To Our Table. Perhaps this is a bit ambitious, but you get the idea. The weather will be perfect so please come out and say hello. So often we get bogged down in the logistics of our day, we don't get to meet many of you or personally say thanks for all you do for us.

Please come and buy a cookbook or at least make a friend buy one and then you can look at all the wonderful recipes. The cost is $20 and it really is quite a deal when you consider how many things are much more expensive: A tummy tuck can cost up to $17,000. A Lear jet starts around 5 million. Even a new microwave can set you back $60- $160.

So... as you can see, this cookbook is quite the deal! And the proceeds go to Samaritan house to help us continue our work in the Flathead.

ThursdayFest is located Downtown on 3rd Ave East at 1st St East, behind the KM building. Our booth will open around 5pm. See you there!

Looking forward to meeting you and saying hello.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Back To The Future

Getting there is half the fun. Focus on the journey, not the destination.

Most of us are familiar with these two (and others like them) phrases. I’ve seen them plastered on bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets and cross-stitched doilies of all shapes and sizes. The implication is that we should take notice of the present because the future will get here soon enough. This fast paced, rat race of a world we inhabit is rapidly spinning and flinging us down roads and paths with such ferocity, that we often lose sight of what is happening as we  travel along on our merry way.

The other side of the coin is that we should take stock of difficult and trying times or circumstances so we can build character. There are numerous platitudes that accompany this line of thinking…That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. The problems of today produce the blessings of tomorrow. You get the picture. But, what if you are a person who does not have the luxury of living in slogan-land? What if your journey or problems are so epic that the absolute last thing you are able to do is face them? While I know many people who enjoy having their character built, I see many more who are one step away from the ledge because the destination has evaporated.

Every day I am around people who would gladly trade hope for income; destiny for education; faith for employment. There is an ebbing away that takes place because the present has become unimaginably uninhabitable while the future taunts more than it comforts. How did we get his way? It would be easy to blame politics or religion or a slew of other systems that regulate lifestyles. That’s too easy.

I blame us. Humanity. I think, more than anything, we are forgetting what it means to be human and that respect and dignity are not restricted to economic brackets or certain clubs or what part of the world you were born in. I don’t know… maybe this answer is too vague. There are many people who fight against injustice and poverty and homelessness and domestic violence every day. What will we do if they decide to give up?

We must provide this community with tangible destinations for people to reach, but the journey also needs to be supplemented with grace and opportunity.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Chow Time

Here is a small excerpt from our cook book. If you are interested in purchasing one ($20), please call our office at 257-5801

The Importance of food.

Close your eyes and think back to when you were a child. Seated in an oversized chair while your chin barely reached the surface of the table. You might be able to recall what the room looked like, or the sounds that lofted in and out of your periphery. But one there is one sense that leaves an indelible mark upon who we are and where we come from: the way something smells.

A scent can be powerful enough to stop us in our tracks. When a familiar smell crosses our path it transports us back to a specific time and place that transcends years and geography and circumstance. The sweetness of a home-baked pie or the richness of a pasta dish from our childhood. When we smell a dish that means something to us we have an instant connection with our past and our present situation can temporarily take a back seat. Scent is a wonderful precursor to taste, which is one of the purposes for this book. What tastes good and what do these foods mean to different people?

Food does more than nourish the body. It serves as a connection to our past. It can be a transformative force that helps us escape our current problems by whisking us away to faraway places and relocating us to some of the happiest memories from years gone by. In the midst of chaotic circumstances and uncertain prospects, a sense of comfort can be found in food.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Constant Reminder

Silence is golden and I rarely appreciate it unless it is absent. For two straight days an alarm echoed through the halls of our administration center. A perpetual beeping for nearly 48 hours... Every nine seconds.

Initially, I was merely irritated by this interruption to the silence that typically permeates the building where my office resides. One of the things I enjoy most about the location of my office is the fact that I can depend on the crypt like silence to provide a wonderful atmosphere of quiet. So, when the electronic interloper decided to voice its presence every nine seconds, I was perturbed but unshaken.

Eventually, my mild displeasure evolved into annoyance followed by rage and then, finally... Sweet indifference. If I couldn't beat the electronic buzzing alarm, then I would join it. I began devising musical accompaniment and even tried my hand at constructing a few lyrics around it. I developed some games based on timing and nine second intervals of activity. I even stopped by our director's office to inform him that the beeps were coming every 9 seconds. I was proud of my astute observation. Our lives were being interrupted on a consistent basis but we had adapted and were functioning.

Then I had a thought... I was curious as to what else happens every nine seconds so I did some research. Every nine seconds a woman is a victim of domestic violence. Every nine seconds a child drops out of school. Every nine seconds a person dies of AIDS. The alarm suddenly enveloped a more sinister meaning. To hear a statistic is one thing, but to be be constantly reminded of its reality is another. I couldn't escape the fact that every time that alarm announced itself, another woman was hit or a kid quit school or someone died.

I am a master of compartmentalization but the incessant beeping would not let me push this information to the back of my mind. Nearly 6 and a half times a minute that alarm sounded: almost 400 times an hour: almost 9600 times over the course of a day... Reality versus the theoretical. If you know some one who is a victim of domestic abuse, then do whatever it takes to help them escape their situation. If you know a kid who is struggling in school, then what will you do to make sure he or she doesn't become just another blip on the radar? AIDS has claimed countless lives over the decades and, in spite of progress, it still is a devastating disease.

When I now hear the alarm go off, it means a little more.

Monday, July 2, 2012

In Dependence

Consider this a preemptive strike on the 4th of July. It’s that time of year where we put all our partisan bickering aside and unite in a common belief in the eternal goodness of the outdoor grill. For 24 hours we are all Americans. I have some family who live in England and I like to call them around this time of year to gloat, but they pretend it doesn’t bother them. Ironically, my neighbors are from Canada and they party on the 4th like the world is ending. But, to be honest, I rarely understand Canadians even though they look just like us.

Many of our residents are Veterans and they particularly enjoy Independence Day because it connects them directly to our heritage as a nation. No matter what circumstances brought them to Samaritan House, nothing can take their history as a soldier away from them, no matter to what capacity or where they served. Sometimes the past is so much more than a collection of random memories or impressions. It becomes a link to our current shared experience with the rest of humanity. For our vets, the past can be a resource that allows them to draw from a time and place that might have been one of the most memorable times of their life.

One of the most prevalent themes that seeps into my conversations with our veterans is how some people recoil from the present and live in the past because it offers sanctuary from a life unimagined. The 4th of July provides a spark in which some people can reconnect with the world around them. So, as we celebrate life, liberty, and those green ‘Get Lost’ stickers, take some time to reflect on your present situation. What connects you to those around you? Are you mired in the past or do you revel in it so much that the present is just a vapor?

Happy 4th!