“I owe it all to going to jail,” he tells me as we sit in the living room of his bachelor apartment on a Friday afternoon, the sun streaming in through the windows, the sound of traffic on the busy roadway outside a constant hum in the background. He has agreed to be interviewed for an article I’m writing for an agency’s annual report. He is one of the tenants they house with long term experience of homelessness. “I want to do whatever I can to help. They helped me.”
Life wasn’t easy. It still isn’t. But he’s alive and that’s what counts he tells me. Foster care at 12. The streets at 16. He ran with a tough crowd. Saw a lot of Canada but doesn’t remember much of it. “I was drunk a lot. Stoned too.” And then he adds with a shy laugh. “And then, I got lucky.”
Lucky was going to jail for eighteen months, he tells me. “Never saw that coming,” he adds. “Thinking that prison would be the best thing that ever happened to me.”
It was in prison, he got diagnosed and started taking meds for a mental illness. “I owe it all to my mental health worker. She saved my life.” And he motions to the room in which we sit. The guitar. The training certificates hanging in a line on one wall. A child’s drawings on the fridge. “I’m here because of her.”
Here is a large one room bachelor suite in a building that is specifically for individuals with low income and lived experience of homelessness. He has lived here for 9 months. His plan is to keep living here, to keep gaining stability, to keep building his life. “As long as I stay good. I can live here. That’s my plan.”
Find value in all things.
For this man, going to jail is where he found the most value. It changed his life. For the better.
Another woman I interview tells me that four years of a debilitating illness was hard. Really hard. It took away her independence. It stole her self worth.
“I didn’t plan on getting sick,” she tells me on the day I interview her. “At first, I fought it. I thought I could keep working my way through it. But I was too sick and just kept getting sicker.”
Eventually, she lost her business. Her home. Her way.
“I was really lost for awhile,” she tells me. Her voice is quiet. Soft. Her eyes look away as though she can still see those days clearly. “I almost gave up.” And then, she got help.
“I never thought I’d have to reach out for help. That wasn’t me,” she adds with a laugh. In reaching out she discovered a world of possibility. It was different than the world she imagined, but it was there none the less. “I found all these people willing to help me. I used to think I was all alone. I wouldn’t change any of it, just to know that.”
Find value in all things.
It doesn’t matter if we judge something good, bad or indifferent. If we are experiencing it, there is value in it.
This week, starting on Wednesday, my youngest daughter and I are coaching together at Choices. It’s founder, Thelma Box, created the program 35 years ago to help women cope with life and divorce and everything in between. Many of the women who first came to the seminar were like Thelma. Single mothers. Divorced. Trying to keep their families together. Trying to keep themselves from falling apart. Thelma found value in her experiences by creating value for others.
Eight years ago, I sat in the seminar room for the first time and wondered, “what’s the value for me in all of this?” I had just spent 3 years rotor-rooting through my soul in a desperate attempt to find my answers so that I could help my daughters heal from the relationship that almost killed me. When I stepped into the seminar room I figured I had it all worked out. I was there because my best friend asked me to go. “I need you to go for me,” she said. She had helped save my life. It was the least I could do for her.
Little did I know that by stepping into the seminar room that first Wednesday as a trainee, I would find a lifetime of value that continues to inform and enrich my life, and my daughters lives as well. It wasn’t that I needed fixing. It was that I needed a safe, loving environment to be who I am without fear of being judged, challenged or dismissed. In that loving space, I grew to accept me, just the way I am. And, my daughters and I grew to know and accept each other, just the way we are. In that place, Love connected us and forgiveness and caring and grace became our field of engagement.
I didn’t know what value there would be for me in that seminar room eight years ago. It doesn’t matter. Sitting in that room, being in it again and again as a coach, the value I find far outweighs the time and energy it takes to continue to be part of the program.
And in my commitment, my daughters continue to explore its value in their lives. And what could be better than that? To know that they matter. That they are magnificent. That they have tools to live their lives outside their comfort zones.
There is value in all things. Our job is to find it and live it for all we’re worth.