While getting ready on the morning of our departure from Washington, DC, each other, and this trip, I was thinking about how to put it all together. Not only the many visits, stops, and experiences we had scheduled in the itinerary, but the relationships that formed, and my own personal reaction to the trip as well as family struggles unrelated to the trip, that were unfortunately unfolding at the same time. There was a thought I had been trying to fully form since our group reflection time after we spent Sunday morning at the Church of Epiphany with many homeless men and women (mostly black men). We ate breakfast, attended services, and talked with them. Instead of walking past them on the street, we sat next to them. They sat next to us. I don't know how to avoid the whole "us" and "them" dichotomy, so I won't.
People cried and teared up, and I felt myself getting emotional as well. I was trying to focus intently on forming this one thought I had stirring so that I could share it with the group, but my eyes kept blurring with held back tears, and I was unable to get my words out. What I was thinking about was how we all need other people. For support, throughout our lives, at one point or another. Maybe we need people when we are fragile, and these people help keep us from breaking. Maybe we need people when we are strong, and these people keep us from stumbling. But, we all need people, don't we? On this trip, I didn't really realize until the end, our need for each other. I think being surrounded by people at all times, by about Thursday or Friday of the trip, many of us were thinking that we would just like some time to ourselves. And there is value in that, certainly, but how much do we learn when we are by ourselves all the time? How much do we grow? How much are we really forced to think, to question, and to care? For this, and for many other things in life, we need help from others.
At church I sat next to and talked to a man named Sean. Sean and I talked about his travels and mine; he knew the little town in California where I grew up, I knew some of the routes he had taken. He asked me if I knew the Bible, and I told him, not very well. He went to his bag and pulled a new Bible out of a covering, and handed it to me. He said he didn't want to give it to just anyone. The night before I was having a rough time with some news I had received, and in my typical fashion, isolated myself from the group that evening. Of course, when you're locked in to a church for the night with warnings of security systems and alarms going off, there's only so many places you can go, and I guess I didn't really try that hard, because two friends stumbled upon me pretty quickly. They asked if I was OK, I said no. I cried, they sat down with me, a simple act, and I felt cared for. I took that with me when I sat down next to Sean the next morning. These same two friends, saw me struggling and leave the room during our Sunday morning reflection, and came to find me, on purpose this time. I had to smile. By the very end of the trip these friends would have only known me for ten days. I don't think they knew how much it meant to me (or how their act tied into the bigger picture of this trip for me). A simple act of caring.
So the following morning, getting ready to leave the city, I was still trying to put my thoughts together, as I'm still struggling to do now. We all learned so much intellectually and affectively, personally and professionally, but I did not expect a lesson in caring to be one of those things. In writing this reflection and trying to get down my thoughts, I think what I've been doing wrong is trying to form an answer when what I've got right now are my own experiences, and questions: How long does it take to care, and what does it take to sustain that caring?
How many times do you have to talk to someone, or walk past someone, before you care? About them, about their cause, about what they care about. And once you do, if it takes one conversation or one year of being asked for change by the same man on the street, how do you make that sustainable? When it comes to these big issues, like food insecurity, homelessness, poverty, abuse; there's always a question of finding sustainable solutions. Charity is not sustainable, I think all of us on the trip know that now. "Trying to end hunger with food drives is like trying to fill the Grand Canyon with a teaspoon," (A Place at the Table, 208). And more and more what we're hearing is that politically, at least, it's not so much a matter of sustainable funding for food assistance, but sustained caring. We see time and time again, the nature of caring is to come and go. But I think there is a threshold, a point at which caring for someone or something becomes unwavering and with us forever. How do we capture it, and keep it, knowing it can change the world?