We are still in the hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas and today I was feeling cranky. It always hits me when I realize that all my clothes are dirty, this isn’t free and I can’t get any work done. Yes, I realize I have problems ;p
This afternoon I finally got some time to sit and work on my current project, a non fiction piece on finding true freedom, surviving anything and living a life of joy. During this session of scribbling I found myself wandering back to the first night I ever slept outside on the streets and I found myself overwhelmed with gratitude for my life.
That morning I was dirty, starved and had nothing. While I wrote I was munching on cracker crust gourmet pizza made by the hotel bar and typing away with a view of the city spread out before me. That’s one reason I am writing this book; so I don’t forget the lessons I’ve learned.
Here’s a sample from what I wrote today:
I learned appreciation the first night I slept on the streets. Often the term “on the streets” means you don’t have an address and bounce between shelters. This town in New Hampshire didn’t have any shelters, so I mean literally sleeping on the concrete street. The first night, as dark fell, I experienced not belonging anywhere for the first time. I wandered for awhile, wondering where I would find a safe bed before it finally hit me that there wasn’t one. I was completely on my own, and my survival was in my hands.
It was thrilling and frightening. I thought of all the rules that no longer applied to me on my own. I thought of all the protection and comforts that also no longer applied to me. I found a recessed doorway that offered me some privacy from the street and lay on the dirty sidewalk with my back pressed against the locked door. I listened to cars passing by, people talking inside through their open windows. Once or twice someone walked past my shadowed doorway and a held my breath that they wouldn’t notice me. I thought I’d never sleep, but I did.
I woke up the next morning as the sun was just thinking about making an appearance. It was early fall and the days were still warm but the night had been chilly. My joints were completely stiffened up. I was only 18 but I uncurled and got to my feet like I was 80. I hobbled to a nearby parking lot and sat on a wooden post trying to figure out what to do now. I was frozen, I was starving and I had not a penny. The sun rose up over the buildings at that moment, and one ray covered me.
That subtle warmth was as good as a fire to my chilled body. I closed my eyes and was stunned to think how I had never noticed a sunbeam before. In that moment, it was the loveliest thing I had ever experienced. I closed my eyes and cried. I’m sure I was a strange sight that morning; a ratty looking girl perched on a post and smiling up at the dawn, tears streaming down my cheeks. In my decades of life since, few pleasures have come close to eclipsing that early morning ray of sunshine.
It made me grateful for the cold night laying on cement. It made me appreciate the fear I had felt. I was even happy for the gnawing hunger in my belly because I suddenly realized how amazing my next meal was going to be.
I had a rough childhood in some ways, but I had never experienced deprivation and hunger before. I accepted them that morning as a gift and left that parking lot better equipped to survive because I had learned appreciation. Appreciation became one of the filters that I began to view the world through.
That situation could have gone much differently. I could have woken up that morning and stumbled into the same parking lot, waited on the same post and experienced the same sun beam. Instead of looking at the situation as a unique experience to be treasured later, I could have seen the situation in a negative light.
The sun beam wasn’t nearly warm enough to loosen up my stiff body, it wasn’t feeding me and the whole parking lot was seedy and covered in trash. There were many more reasons to look at that morning as a bad one than there were good but my choice to appreciate the minute blessing made the difference between a memory that still buoys me through hard times or one that breaks me down.