From the Street

To prepare ourselves for the retreat, we were asked to forego showers for five days before we headed out on Thursday afternoon. Since I needed to at least start a week in court on the clean side, I took my last shower Monday morning.

By thursday, I was itchy and uncomfortable. I hadn’t trimmed my already full beard for a month, and it was looking pretty scraggly. I have a tendency toward dandruff so I was self-conscious about checking my dark suit-shoulders periodically.

A big part of the journey of the retreat was becoming aware of the many privileges that I possess, and being clean is a privilege that I had never considered before.

On the street, it’s very hard to find a shower, or even a sink where you can do a sponge-bath, and to my shame, I am the first to admit that I have often judged people on the street because they were dirty. It used to gross me out, and made me want to give them a wide berth. I had a story that these unwashed folks just didn’t care about that, but it turns out when you talk with people, almost everyone would love to shower every day.

But that is a privilege of the inside people.

There is a wonderful organization, Lava Mae, that has a truck with showers in it. They park in front of Glide Church where breakfast is served, and a hose runs from the fire hyrdant. You can make an appointment, and there is a place to leave your stuff safely while you clean up. But its only one truck with four or five showers, and there are hundreds and hundreds of outside people.

Of course, the other spot to clean up is a sink. After we would wake up early in the mornings from our cardboard beds on the sidewalk, we would go to the Safeway in the Castro to use the bathroom and find many others washing in the sink.

By the way, it turns out that being able to pee or poop whenever you want to is a privilege that is also denied to the outside people.

The management at that Safeway are incredibly nice about it, and we never saw anyone asked to leave. It’s kind of a meeting place too, where we would check in with others who had slept on the concrete, and ask them how their night was, and where they were hoping to get breakfast. This is how information travels on the street.

So by the time we came to the last day, it had been six days since my last shower, and I was really starting to look and smell like a homeless person.

When I saw Anya later that day, she sniffed and her face wrinkled. She stepped back, held out her arms with a grin and shouted “Air Hug.”

I laughed, and laughed again when Alycia did the same. Anya said I didn’t smell like a person, I smelled like trash. Even though I knew this must be true, I couldn’t actually smell it myself at all.

But in discovering the privilege of being clean, I was given a gift beyond measure.

After our last breakfast in the dingy basement of Glide, we went upstairs for the Sunday service. I had always wanted to come before, but never had, and I was excited!

They have a rocking band, and a massive choir of the most diverse people you can imagine: all shades of skin, drag queens, old, young, some with disabilities, and the stained glass in the chapel is over 100 years old.

It opened with a bang, and then we came to the part where everyone greets each other. Some people were hugging, but I was shy. In addition to my smell, I was sunburnt and my clothes were filthy and worn. I looked like an outside person.

The story in my head was that I didn’t want to “subject” myself onto someone else. The deeper truth is that in that moment I didn’t feel worthy to hug.

Like so many men, I carry a shadow belief about myself that there is something wrong with me, and that I am inherently unworthy, and not good enough.

Of course, this has led to many blessings for me, since out of our greatest wounds come our deepest strengths, and to compensate, I became an over-achiever, always going for the A, for the attention, for the acclaim.

My deepest truth is that I believe I must do things in order to be loved, and that I must be a good person, and serve others, and perform in all the many ways that I do, in order for people to like me.

In the old days, this deeply held story was hidden away, and I was unaware of it. But thanks to a great deal of personal work and introspection, spurred and catalyzed by the the ManKind Project, I am now quite familiar with this belief and it’s limitations.

And yet, I have always had a hard time taking in love.

I have a huge heart and I pour it out to others, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that I am willing to love everybody, at least in some way.

But when it comes to taking in love, or compliments, or praise, I tend to deflect it away, in what appears to some people to be humility.

When I looked around in the pews for someone to greet, a well dressed, very clean older white woman turned to me and I held out my hand.

She looked at me from head to toe, grabbed my hand, shook her head at my distance, and said come on in here and she gave me a huge and lengthy bear hug.

My mom died eight years ago, and I felt her in that hug. It felt so good, and even as I write this I am crying again, as I have off and on since I got home.

In that hug, I felt unconditional love for me as a human being.

I was nobody and everyone all at once. My persona and my story and my accomplishments and my relationships all fell away, and I was simply a person born into this world by a miracle, and blessed to live a long and beautiful life.

For the first time in my life, I felt unconditional love and allowed it to come inside. I allowed my myself to accept it as a gift.

In that hug, I felt the personal love of God or the universe or spirit or that unnamed thing we feel when we sit in circle with our brothers and sisters, or when we hug our parents, or a child.

In that one hug, as I wept and held on tightly to that utter stranger, I experienced a profound healing.

I can now say with utter clarity and conviction and gratitude, I am worthy of unconditional love, just like every other being on this planet.