For most people, leaving work is the part of the day that they look forward to the most, but for me, arriving at work is one of the best parts of the day. Trust me, I always enjoy ending another day at work, where I am surrounded by an incredible group of men, a dedicated group of volunteers, and a hardworking, compassionate staff, for it means another successful day of all of us working together for the common good has occurred. The completion of a work day also means I am moments away from seeing the two loves of my life, my daughters. So, while the end of the work day is welcomed, the beginning of the work day is welcomed for different, albeit special, reasons, as well.
As I drove down the street that leads to the St. John Center for Homeless Men, I saw a number of “our guys” making their way either to the shelter or heading around the corner to a place that serves coffee. I have never been in a parade or part of a motorcade, but I think that they would never compare with the smiles, waves, and greetings I receive from our guys when I pass by on my way to work. They are very observant, so, they know the cars that we drive and look for us in the morning when we are due to arrive at work. The guys are genuinely happy to see us, and the feeling is more than mutual.
When I parked my car yesterday, I saw some of our guys walking toward the shelter and congregating on the sidewalk leading to our front doors, and when I opened my car door, I was serenaded with the song, “I’ve Got That Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart”, by one of the men. He was a familiar face and sang the song with great gusto, and his smile was almost as big as the morning sun that bathed us in warmth and light on a chilly morning. As soon I saw him and another familiar face along side of him and heard this hymn from my childhood, all of the anxiety and worry that had accompanied me to work that morning gave way to this simple pleasure. I stood listening to him finish the song, applauded, and thanked him for starting my morning off on such a positive note, and we chatted for a bit. He and his friend are frequent quests at the shelter, and we have gotten to know one another over these morning pleasantries and brief conversations. After we shared some small talk, the friend who stood next to the man who was singing said to me, “I love how you are always smiling and happy. Sometimes, I am having a bad day, but when I see your smiling face, and you talk to me, it always makes me feel better. You’re alright.”
Obviously, I am not always happy and do not always smile, but when I am at work, I make it a conscious effort to be at my best and to give them my best, for they deserve only the best from everyone and the best of everything, as they are usually regarded as the worst elements of society and deal with the worst of circumstances. I always am so humbled when any of the men thank me, because so often, due to limited resources, I am not able to give them what they need the most-housing, employment, money, etc. Also, with as much as they give to me, I feel indebted to them.
When this man commented on how something as seemingly insignificant as a smile and chit-chat brightened his day, for some reason, I was overcome with emotion, and I choked back bittersweet tears and replied, “Thank you so much, and I hope you know that you all are the reason I smile when I am here.” The man who serenaded me said, “Baby, we love you, and we pray for you. God bless you.” By this time, big, grateful tears clouded my eyes, which were hidden behind my sunglasses, and I could only manage to say, “I love you all, too, and God bless you all.” To that, the singer replied, “Oh, I am so blessed already.” When I said how much I loved to hear that and then inquired why he felt so blessed, he smiled even more and responded, “Every day that I wake up is a blessing; it is as simple as that.” As I walked away from them to head inside of the shelter, their words went with me and have been on my mind ever since then, and now they have found their way here.
I find it completely mind-blowing that someone who does not have all the trappings of what we consider successful or all of the basic necessities of life could stand outside on a gorgeous morning feeling so blessed, when most people, myself included, would not use that word to describe him and could not imagine using it to describe ourselves if we found ourselves in his well-worn and tattered shoes. As I have mentioned in previous posts that reference the men at the day shelter, several of them have replied, “I am blessed” when I have asked them how they are, and every single time I hear this genuine response, it touches me deeply. It also has led me to start thinking about how I view being blessed in my own life.
Too often, I wait for the ideal situation, the right person, and/or the achievement of perfection in one or more areas of my life to feel blessed or happy, and I overlook the blessings already present in my life. The gift that these men offer me every day, if only I choose to accept it, is that each day really is a blessing in and of itself, and there’s always reason to be happy, no matter how you feel, no matter who is or is not in your life, no matter what you do or do not have, and so forth. So, today, I started noticing the blessings in my life, instead of focusing on the challenges and imperfections, and I gained a new-found gratitude for everything from my two happy, healthy, and extraordinary daughters to the cool breeze that swept through my home. Even the smallest of blessings can make the biggest of differences, just ask our guys, and the next time someone asks you how you are, I hope you will think of our guys and answer, “I am blessed.” At this very moment, I’ve got that joy, joy, joy down in my heart, and I am blessed indeed.
That’s another story . . . – Kristi Jo Jedlicki, SJC Program Director