Facts and figures fly over the iris’ of the eyes of Jack as I serve him potatoes. He asks me if I’ve heard of the Jesuits. Though confused at his reasoning I want to answer honestly saying “I’ve heard of those proselytizing teachers, over payed priest turned popes who preach populism from the pulpit.” He smiles knowingly, like my alliteration was a code word of our conspiracy seeking society “the noble order of know nothing street poets.” I imagine in this reality my cool demeanor and nickle platted watch and rosary were all he needed to identify me. He would then ask the real question: “Do they come from Nigeria?” I think hard on their lineage and wonder if where they hail from is more definitive then how they saw hello. In all this jive talking and sly tongue walking I’ve forgotten my divine truths. I say to my brother, the honorable abbot, the divine preacher and thought tamer “Only the wise women know the origins of such fiends for only the mind of the three fold life givers can comprehend hailing and beginnings. I’d call the mother superior for consultation if only my mind’s eye could see her number written in Arabic on the Rolodex of God’s memories.” Jack would look at me like I’m the crazy one. Instead I smile and ask if he wants more potatoes.
Behind him Daze is laughing his raspy, sinister laugh. “Man, Chicago, you one crazy mother I tell you that.” I know it means that you doesn’t remember my name but I love when the guys at the soup kitchen call me Chicago. It has got to be my all time favorite nick names. The only other nickname that compares is when my uncle calls me “The Franchise.” Terrel comes next, muttering to herself incomprehensibly. I know not to engage her when she is talking to her ex-husband who may or not be a demon depending on if she took her medicine. I serve her and wish her a happy Tuesday though I know that, her at least, it will be anything but.
This is how I spend most mornings now. After I wake up at 6 a.m. read e-mails, check the news, meditate, try to say words of encouragement to my niece and then I walk two miles to Capital Hill United Methodist Church. The walk is generally cold and now that it is December, dark. Yet, for some reason the coldness but in my a contemplative mood that the setting moon only amplifies. Some mornings I listen to talk radio and learn about something new on the walk. Once I get to the Church I wait by the entrance with people facing homelessness as one of them pushing the door bell repeatedly. Eventually someone comes to the door and we all pile in.
I’ve learned to respect all the people who share this morning ritual. I realize we are all here to fill a need. Some of us come here to eat. Someone us are here for fellowship. Some of us are here to hear the word of God. Some are here because their lives would be lessened without service. While I respect all you come as they are, I have a tremendous amount of admiration for the organizers. They give up a lot of time, money and energy to make this Soup Kitchen run. They remind me what is really important in life.
Because the Soup Kitchen is important to me, I get there around 7:30 and leave around 10:30. I help cook, serve food and clean up afterwards. Its a meditative experience that keeps me calm and grounded. It soothes some of the unease I feel about state of the safety net in SE D.C. It is hard for me to sleep comfortably on my sister’s couch with a full stomach when I know their are people going without food and safe place to sleep. I have very little money to name at the moment and my net worth is completely in the red but I know how much economic privilege I have that the people I see almost every morning do not. Serving each morning reminds me of that privilege and reaffirms my commitment to removing myself from actively contributing to systems of oppression. It is a process, one that I struggle with every day but I believe that I am morally responsible for the outcomes of the systems I contribute to. When I buy my food from a company with terrible labor practices I am contributing to the oppression of those workers.
The problem with constantly worrying about how you contribute to these systems is that it is almost impossible to remove yourself from them completely. How do you get what you need without buying from a less than perfect corporation? How do you find a nice place to live without contributing to displacement? The answer would be go off the grid and only use what you make yourself. Of course, you are still responsible for the violence and oppression done on your behalf. If you are in America, you property rights are upheld by the same government that sends drones around the world. Not to mention that idea that all that needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing is a compelling argument for actively ending oppression being morally superior to removing your self from those systems. Yet is there a way to do both? Can you work to end oppression completely from the outside? Could you be off the grid and walk into the city to engage in activism? At what point would you come up against the moral complication of being the perennial outsider telling other communities to how to live?
I haven’t yet found answers to these questions so I continue my commitment to “active confusion” or refusing to let my uncertainty breed inaction. I am constantly trying to improve the way in which I operate through the world, yet sometimes the constant effort to do the moral thing is hard to maintain. I compromise on my morals for the sake of ease and comfort far more often than I’d like. Yet, there are moments at the Soup Kitchen that make me feel better about my flawed commitment to justice.
The other day, a man who comes in for Breakfast asked me if I was a volunteer. I told him that I was and that I try to come four days a week. He was puzzled and said “oh, you must be a student then?” I informed him that I had graduated from college some time ago. He confusion deepened and he asked “then what are doing with your life.” I laughed, looked him in the eye and said “This, this is what I’m doing with my life.” He laughed, probably assuming that I was crazy or joking but I affirmed, if only by my own certainty in my answer for the first time in a long time. I am living my life, the best way I know how. I want my life to be defined by how I move through it, not what I do for money. I try to move through life intentionally. I try to move through life ethically. I try to move through life with a eye towards growth and increasing self awareness. I try to move through life knowing that everyone I meet has the tiniest yet most priceless narrow piece of the human experience. I am a interactive performance artist who works in several different mediums but whether I perform service, writing, organizing or labor each piece tries to understand and improve the world. That is what I’m doing with my life.
As for specific developments:
I currently earn what little money I have through filling out surveys about safe and healthy housing.
I am currently working on improving my editing skills and finding my unique voice
I am recently began, enjoyed and ended a relationship with a woman. It was positive, if somewhat confusing, experience. It was the first romantic relationship I’ve pursued with my new outlook on life and after several months of thinking about my feminist allyship. It taught me, among other things, the vast difference between my intellectual understanding of how things should work and how things actually do in the real world.
I am more aggressively sending out pitches for articles and submitting articles for publication. This is the next serious step my writing saga and I am excited and cautiously optimistic.
I am continuing to apply for more conventional part-time work and am pretty pessimistic about it.
I am trying hard to make new friends here in D.C and have already met some wonderful people.
My best friends from High School are doing well. One came back from Afghanistan and the other just graduated from college. Both have been pretty exciting
I am working hard to maintain relationships with people from Chicago [even those who have now moved to SF] and am excited to from them.
I can now say that I no longer have anxiety about talking on the phone which is pretty big deal for me.
2013 will go done in my personal history as the most formative year to date!
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