Tuesday, January 23, 2007


The strangest part of the whole business was that I didn't feel anything.

Another man walked up and I handed out another tray.

Some of them smiled and said "bless you." Others said "thanks." Most just took the trays without saying anything.

I looked at the stuff we were giving them: a sort of shapeless macaroni in spaghetti sauce with some vegetables. The people at the other tables were serving salad, bananas and cookies.

From time to time, I felt like asking the other volunteers why they were doing this. I wondered why I was doing this.

The company I was working at had a quarterly goal that three quarters of the employees spend 8 hours in some form of community service. If the employees meet that goal, there would be a quarterly bonus – essentially a cash incentive to take part.

Money has never been a good motivator for me. All other things being equal, money is more like a gauge of what people think of me. A bit extra might make more comfortable, but it really would not make a difference in my life.

I would like to think that I'm helping people, but I simply felt like I was handing out trays. As I watched the men eating, I knew that, after this was done, they would be back onto the freezing streets. This was but a short respite for them from the realities of life. Giving them a tray of food wasn't going to change that.

I guess it did give me a little more insight into their situation. At the time all I thought was "I don't know squat." I don't know what it's like to live on the street, I don't know what the freezing cold is like or what these people want. I'm just handing out trays.

There was a woman helping me hand out trays. She asked people how they were doing and the like. The men, for it was mostly men, responded well to her. She was very good about getting the trays to me to hand out to the people in line. In situations where I'm standing right next to a person that's much better than me, I felt useless. Before things had started up, she had mentioned that she was here as part of a church group.

I handed out another tray.

I still didn't know why I was there.

There were all kinds of people in line. There were older ones and younger ones. There were black people and Hispanic people and white people. There was one guy who had a book on computers. One or two skipped the hot portion of the meal and just got the rest.

I had been afraid that things would drag by, but time went pretty quickly. When we were finished we had served over 280 people. The people at the soup kitchen thanked us for helping out. I didn't feel like I had helped anyone.

As I drove back home with my usual lack of directional ability I wondered what I had expected or hoped for. I guess I had expected something: empathy? Understanding? Pity? Self-righteousness? The one thing I hadn't expected was what I felt: nothing.


Blue Panther said...

I would like to ask you this: Are you sure you felt nothing?

Reading the post, I did not feel that you felt nothing. In the least, just being aware of how you felt about the whole thing was a lesson learned.

Maybe, you were not satisfied with just handing out the trays but wanted to do something permanent for them?


stev said...

nothing eh... interesting

hmmm. blue panther's thoughts sound plausible. that you wanted to do more?

or it was all the small things... the $ incentive, the lack of response from the people, or that you somehow did not feel a real connection?

or mayhaps you needed to drink more coffee to wake up :P

Jaime the Half-Tongue said...

Life. It is either receiving the tray, or handing it out. But still it is life. All life is special.

CyberCelt said...

My dream is to take the homeless, people and animal, and put them together on a piece of land where they may live as they like. I always feel blessed when I encounter the homeless.

Canuckistani said...

Perhaps feeling nothing will send you back to do some more of this work until you do. Besides, what you didn't feel isn't wrong, maybe you expected to feel too much.

Where have you been, you haven't come visited me in a while.

Whatever said...

blue: true enough --- just the feeling of feeling nothing is...something?

blue & stev: a kind way of looking at it is that I wanted to feel more of a connection sort of thing as stev mentioned. The sad, but more accurate truth is that I probably wanted to feel like I was doing more.

A part of it was that the situation was also new to me. One of the things I learned from living in a city was not to look a homeless person in the eye. If you do, then you get hassled, usually while you are trying to get somewhere in a hurry. So looking these people in the face was something new for me.

I also felt scared. When I was younger I was taught that other people, especially people who are down on their luck, were dangerous. As we were going in, one of the people running the place explained that you should only give your first name. Never give out any other info. The other people in the group explained how you should not try to go to the bathroom there. All of this simply underlined the fear for me.

I don't know how justified the fear is. Whatever the case, I'm hoping that, as time goes on, the fear will recede and I will be able to feel something else.

jaime: one thing I noticed was that I really looked at the people. As with all human beings each one is different, each one unique while at the same time similar. Obvious I guess but sometimes "knowing" something in the mind and "knowing" it in my heart are not the same.

cybercelt: what happens when the people need someplace to live or grow food?

Canuckistani: I have too dropped by your site! You've had the whole Burkini thing going on for weeks though and I didn't feel like I had anything to contribute to the conversation :-S Anyhow, I see you've got some new posts, so I'll make a point of dropping by.

I agree with what you said about expecting myself to feel too much. I think it will take a while to feel less overwhelmed by the situation. I guess we'll see.

stev said...

time & tide waits for all men (?)

gluck with all that food jazz!