Wednesday, July 18, 2012

It's All in the Name

Stranger danger is a common lesson taught to every child. It is meant to keep them safe, but oftentimes instills fear into kids of people they don't know - especially those different than themselves. This fear generally follows children into adulthood making strangers people to avoid and remain nameless.

I hop out of the truck knowing I don't have much time. As I head up the hill, the eyes waiting in line turn to me which reminds me of our differences. We both know I am not there for the same reasons. I won't be standing in line for food. I push aside our differences knowing that if  those become my focus I will not see these people for who they are: simply people just like me. The line wraps around the sidewalk making a square. I step into the center and begin scanning the line knowing each minute is quickly slipping away. I spot my friend, Luke*, in the middle of the line and a smile lights up when we make eye contact. I walk towards him while noticing the man standing in front of 
Luke. His green shorts and sleeveless button up shirt attracts my attention. Only the top button of his shirt is fastened revealing the tattoos across his pale stomach and chest. He watches as I get closer, and I feel hesitant about him. I assume he will ignore me and keep to himself, so I begin talking to Luke about his week. Luke's sweet voice and genuine smile reminds me why I came that morning.

The man next to us interjects a comment, and I turn to him smiling happy that he is interested. Something in me quickly realizes he is not how he appears (scary, violent, rough).

"I slept under a bridge last night."

It was the first time someone had openly spoken to me about what homelessness looks like to them. Plenty of people have shared their stories with me, but his was different.

Names are valuable - way more than we often realize. Names give identity, worth, beauty. Names are something to own. They are the one thing everyone has that is theirs. A name proves that though we all may have differences, we are utterly the same- human.

I've always hated being called Mandy, and for the most part, no one ever tried using that name. But every so often I would get a Mandy as if the person wanted to mix things up a bit. I would cringe at its sound knowing that it was being placed on me. To me, Mandy is everything I'm not. It just doesn't fit.

Later in the week, as I was leaving a different soup kitchen, Jessie yelled out my name stopping me in my tracks. I hadn't realized she knew my name. I had met 
Jessie many times during this past month, but just began using her name this week. She noticed and therefore learned mine.

Sleeping under the bridge was his first night of homelessness. Up until that point, he had been paying rent on an apartment. Our conversation travels back and forth between my life and his. I look at my phone realizing my time is up and I must get back to the housing site to start my day with my group. We say goodbyes and shake hands. Looking at me he says, "A stranger is a friend you haven't met yet."

His name is Rocco.

- Amanda, CSM Nashville Summer 2012 City Host

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*All names, except the author's, have been changed for privacy.

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