“I wanted to speak to some of them, but for a long time I could not summon up courage. However, eventually our mutual exchange of glances introduced us to each other; and we felt that, however widely separated might be our social positions in life, we were still fellow-men, and so we ceased to be afraid of one another.”
–Leo Tolstoy, What Then Must We Do?, 1886
In these apocalyptic times, we must find hope in simple acts of kindness that connect us to other human beings. I have chosen to serve meals. Since the winter of 2016, I have cooked and delivered food to homeless camps, day centers, and places in the field.
I came to this work as a middle-class white guy with good intentions and a standard liberal view that “people deserve help.” What I’ve discovered is a new understanding of poverty and how people survive it. I’ve met people struggling with trouble of all kinds: physical illness, mental illness, drug addiction, lack of income, time spent in prison, having all their stuff stolen, a chronic inability to make relationships.
I used to think that homeless people were somehow diminished in their humanity, but I’ve learned better. We of the middle class are trained to think of the poor as somehow less than us, in need of our moral and material superiority to lift them up. This is not true. Every person you meet is as passionate about their own life as you are about yours, no matter what challenges they face, what bad decisions they have made, or how futile their current situation seems to be.
Knowing this, I now believe that individual acts of caring and kindness are valuable, even while the systems that cause poverty remain intact. We must, of course, engage in political activity to change those oppressive systems, but if politics is not grounded in personal connections it risks becoming an academic exercise, or missing the point.
Serving meals provides food, but just as importantly it provides encouragement! Nearly everyone you meet is trying to improve their lives, to get back what they have lost, to make progress on the path forward they can see for themselves. But they feel alone, forsaken, and excluded. When you show up with a hot meal, a smile, and a friendly word, they feel connected. They are reminded of their best selves. They gain a little bit of strength to endure their current sad condition, and to mount the titanic struggle toward a stable life.
Serving people is fun, too! When you give a hungry person a meal, you have done something that matters, right here and right now. They are happy and you are happy. You have made a connection. There is something healing in that moment, for both people. That moment of healing is, in and of itself, worthwhile, and it has repercussions in the larger world that we cannot know.
About the logo
My logo is a derivation of the Hindu icon Nataraja, which depicts the god Shiva dancing the creation and destruction of the world. Maybe it’s also a schematic burrito? Or the lightning shape of active kindness within the flaming circle of compassion? Something like that!
This blog started in 2016 as a journal of the politics of housing. I soon learned that territory was occupied by powerful and malevolent forces, and turned instead to direct service, providing meals to homeless people in fields and camps. Direct service is the continuation of politics by other means. It is also a pathway to personal wisdom and spiritual growth.
Now, this blog is a report of what I do and what I experience bringing food and encouragement to people who are adrift.