Appreciation noun |ap·pre·ci·a·tion \ə-ˌprē-shē-ˈā-shən,|
an ability to understand the worth, quality, or importance of something
This word, Appreciation, is the unsung hero of modern sentiments. Growing up in the ever evolving contemporaries of “quick and fast” service, things that take time are often unforeseen. Things and acts that take time are labeled as “inefficient” or “unproductive” and if you’re not going as fast as a sports car, you may be marginalized in society as lesser than.
Although I label myself as Type “A” and I’m very much living a mobile lifestyle, this weekend I took all the time in the world in appreciation of humanity. To be removed from the vortex of the digital and live in the present, the physical. To sit down and have a cup of coffee with someone and hear their story. Eyes wide open and ears at the ready for listening.
Too much? Probably. Too heavy in emotion. Definitely.
Let’s start at the beginning shall we? Okay.
The beginning of this year I sought out to better myself as one does, but I decided to be implicit with my intentions. In my typical “Type A” fashion, I laid out a plan and a time-line of when those intentions would occur. The biggest “Action Item” on my aspirations was “Love the way you want to be loved” and “volunteer frequently.” And for awhile, those goals remained as such.. goals. Just arbitrary thoughts in my ever-so-scattered mindspace and was always a constant reminder of something I NEEDED to do. Months went by before I even took notice of this aspiration of mine and before I could even negotiate with myself how much time it takes to volunteer, I got off my lazy excuse-filled ass and signed up for events that I took a personal interest in. That is for me, food.
I found the Brunch Club Movement through means of social media and I’m fervently thankful that I did. This nonprofit organization’s mission is to not only feed the homeless veterans, women, and children of San Diego, but help them with the transition out of it. It follows the mantra of “If you teach a man how to fish” principle and has built an immense audience of volunteers over the years, myself included.
This past weekend at the Annual Thanksgiving Dinner for Brunch Club was the pinnacle event for the organization with a goal to feed 300 people and hand out 300 holiday care package bags. The minute I stepped into that commercial kitchen to help out with the dinner prep was the minute I felt that nostalgia of magnanimity that comes with doing purposeful work, and I haven’t felt that way in two and a half years. The rush of working with a group as one cohesive unit with a common objective that is bigger than yourself is nothing short of magical in the best sense. There are many things that bring me pure joy, but doing something I love (cooking) for a purpose that I love (nonprofit work) puts me over the edge with elation. In quick ten minute intervals I went from carving turkey to dicing sweet potatoes to blanching green beans.. and I relished every moment of it.
Once the intense rush of prepping a massive meal was over, the real special part began. I stood out there in the twinkling lighted courtyard of the church and welcomed our honored guests with the most genuine smile on my face. Three particulars that I met that evening stood out to me. Their stories resonated with me in such a deep personal matter; the whole experience felt very much like The Five People You Meet In Heaven. Here are their stories, I hope they strike a chord with you like they have with me.
Mac: A man about 70-73 years old stood in line to get his complementary haircut. He had served in the U.S Marine Corps during the Vietnam War and when he came back he was drowning in debt. With a struggling search of employment in combination of PTSD his wife left him and took the kids because she believed he was an unproductive member of their family. Four years ago was when he started to experience homelessness and four years ago was when he last had a haircut. He came up to me and asked me where he should sit and I directed him to a chair with my friend Jess. As Jess began cutting his hair I couldn’t leave him. His sheer positive energy was something I wanted to engage more with so I stuck around and talked to him for awhile. He spoke about his buddies in the war, how much he loved pho, and how guilty he felt for “infiltrating” a country with such beautiful landscapes. When Jess was done cutting his hair he had the largest grin plastered on his face as he looked at himself in the mirror. With eyes sparkling, he exclaimed “Watch out George Clooney!” Mac’s spirit was pure magic, the kind you don’t forget.
Spencer: I stood in the entry archway of the church and saw a man with clean clothes and a backpack. I automatically assumed he was a volunteer and so I directed him inside where he would check-in. He said to me “Oh, no I’m here for a haircut and a hot meal and a sports coat if they might have any.” I’ll admit, I was befuddled in my own bias because off the bat he didn’t “look” homeless. He had a certain inflection of anxiety in his voice so I decided to accompany him with whatever he needed for the time being. Spencer didn’t look me directly in the eye, he spoke to everyone in this manner and I learned early on that he has Asperger’s Syndrome. Standing in line with him to enter the meeting hall he spoke about the clouds. He ranted on and on about the temperature change and how temperature change causes barometric pressure change and when that happens that causes different types of rain to fall. He spoke of so many numerical variants that I got lost in translation, but he kept saying that numbers are absolute, they tell the truth, they’re objective, they do not lie and if we follow the numbers there would be less accidents. He looked up at the sky once more and said that these clouds resembled the ones in Portland. I asked him if he was from there and he said candidly “Yeah, that’s where my wife and kids died. In an accident.” He said it with no emotion but as if he was stating another numerical fact to me, he then proclaimed “After that happened I researched a place that could hardly have clouds and San Diego came up.” All I could muster up to say was “On behalf of San Diego, we’re glad to have you here.” I spoke more with him about what he likes about San Diego and he spoke immediately of his work as a Physics professor and his keen interest in Geotechnical Studies. I took notice of all his other stories and the menagerie of factual trivia he kept in his conversational arsenal. I felt like I was with Rain Man in flesh and blood. He thanked me for my time and I thanked him for his knowledge.
Maggie: After escorting Spencer inside for his sports coat I heard a higher pitched voice loaded with inquiry. I heard “Excuse me ma’am, but do they have hot coffee inside?” Elated at this question (because I’m an enthusiastic person for coffee) I assuredly answered back “They most certainly do.” Jubilant at this answer, she smiled a magnetizing grin and said “Oh good. That’s all I really want, a comforting cup of coffee.” I told her I really love coffee as well and she reminisced about her own tradition that surrounded coffee. Maggie told me that her grandmother was from Ethiopia and that the coffee she grew up drinking was called “kahawa” and it has notes of cardamom and ginger in it and that on cold days it was the thing that brought her the most joy. Seeing the purest of happiness transcribed upon Maggie’s face was really something special. It reminded me of how incredibly significant the simple things are. I wished I had spoken with Maggie more, but it was time for me to go as my source of transportation arrived. I told her it was a pleasure meeting her and she looked straight into my eyes and said “God bless you and your beautiful soul.” She said it in the most earnest manner that I couldn’t help but cry. We engaged in an embrace and it was something I never knew I really needed up until now.
I met three people that night. Three individuals with their own compelling stories to tell. Stories that taught me about Triumph, Trauma, and Exultance; stories about the insatiable hardiness of the human spirit and how important it is to live vicariously in the physical and in the now.
So, if you’ve read this far.. this is my thanks. My Thanks For Giving.