It’s #throwbackthursday – the following post has been edited from where it originally appeared on Recover Your Joy May 19th, 2007.
Last night [May 18, 2007] we held a dinner for client volunteers at the shelter where I work. Client volunteers are individuals who are using the facility and who volunteer while staying there. In the course of a year, using a base salary rate of $10/hour, client volunteers provide the shelter with about $600,000 in service.
The dinner was attended by over 60 people. The tables were covered with linen tablecloths and serviettes. China and silverware was at each place setting and the room was lit by the soft glow of candlelight. A big difference from the chaotic and noisy dining room on the second floor of the building where dinner is served to over 600 people a sitting.
As I was greeting guests last night I was struck by the gratitude each person expressed as they walked into room. “Hey. This is nice!” “Haven’t had a candlelit dinner in years.” “This is for me? Wow.” “Cool.” The comments were simple. Appreciative and reflective. Each guest felt part of a moment in time away from the rigors and fears of homelessness. The meal was a scrumptious buffet of salads, roasted chicken and potatoes or lasagne, a cheese plate with fruit, delectable delights and coffee.
As the guests were arriving and getting settled, someone came up to me and asked, “Is it okay if I pour myself a glass of water?” “Of course,” I replied. A few moments later someone else asked, “May I pour myself a cup of coffee?” “Help yourself,” I replied.
After about the third or fourth person came up and asked if they could help themselves to water or coffee, I decided to take action. I picked up a jug and walked around the tables offering people water. As I went, I reminded them that there was coffee to which they could help themsleves on a side table.
This may not seem like a big issue to you, but to someone who is homeless, who must wait in line for just about everything, who must wake up when told, go to bed when told, cannot just pour themselves a glass of water at will or make a cup of coffee when they want, being able to simply stand up and help themselves to a cup of coffee is a big thing.
What struck me even more, however, was the hesitancy with which people asked if it was okay to help themselves to something so simple as water. The night before we’d had a dinner for corporate volunteers, and no one asked if they could get water or coffee. They just did it.
For the client volunteers, conditioned to having to ask for the simplest things, having an entire evening dedicated to them was refreshing and sad all in one. It reminded them of all that they have lost. And yet, over and above the reminders of the past, there was one single attitude that overrode everything.
There is so much in my life I take for granted. A cup of coffee I brew myself every morning. A piece of toast made when I want. A computer to work on when I need it. The house a temperature I decide because I have control of the thermostat.
As I listened to the people gathered in the room, there was no difference between their behaviour and the behaviour of community volunteers served the night before. They all knew what a fork and knife was and how to use them. They all put their serviettes on their laps. They chatted and laughed and told jokes with those sitting at the table with them.
What was different was none of them took anything about last night’s dinner for granted. Not even a glass of water.
Next time you pick up a glass of water, think about what it means to be able to pour it at will.
You are blessed.
May we all have the blessing of not having to stand in line for everything we need today.