As I Stand Before the Mirror: A Thanksgiving Message to the Homeless and Everyone Alive

Dear Homeless Person,

You are on my mind today.  Each morning as I do my hair and make-up — I am fortunate enough to have a mirror, four walls, a ceiling, a hairbrush, make-up — each morning as I stand before the mirror, I think about you. Many thoughts enter my head each morning as I stand before the mirror.

First and foremost I ask myself: how I can help you in the impossible situation in which you find yourself?  I think about where, when, how I can give my money, time, heart and whether it will make any difference at all because you are just one of millions.  I ask myself how this happened to you?  How many combination of actions or lack of actions by billions of us and by you have resulted in the fact that you and millions like you are sleeping on a sidewalk or begging for change?  I ask myself how we got here (and I do mean “we” because I believe forever and ever that your problem is my problem and vice versa).  1 in 100 children in New York City are now homeless. How did this happen?

You are homeless and I am not, but we both share one home that all humans share: planet earth. So, you are living in my home and I am living in yours.  Your concerns are mine and my concerns are yours.  We are roommates on this massive rock we share. You may live in Brazil, Syria, Haiti, Iraq, New York, Detroit, Nigeria, Chicago, Taiwan, Venezuela, the Philippines or two blocks from me.  It matters not. We are joined, connected.  Like it or not, we are roommates of the heart because we share this common home: Earth.

I think about how we got here. How you got here.  I think about your physical condition today.  It is winter in parts of America and in other parts of the world.  Are you cold? Are you sleeping outdoors?  Are you hungry?  Do you have a family? If you are a parent, are your kids able to go to school? Will your kids eat today?  Are you a veteran?  If you are, that is an extra knife in my heart as I look in the mirror and think about all you have given me and all of the immeasurable ways we have let you down, ways that I cannot even wrap my head around.

I wonder about your personal circumstances. Do you have a physical addiction?  How depressed are you?  Do you cry at night or have all your tears been spent?  Do you have any hope at all that your life may improve?  Are you safe? Are you alone or do you have anyone at all to talk to? Are you afraid? It is your fear that I think about yourself.  Fear and I are old friends.

The hardest part of writing this post today was realizing that you will likely never read it. If you are homeless, it is unlikely that you have a phone, a laptop, a tablet, internet service, a Twitter account or a Facebook page.  All of these things that we take for granted every day inside our homes are a distant memory or a distant dream for you I imagine.  So, I stand in front of the mirror and I also wish.  I wish I could communicate with every one of you. I can talk to some of you on the street or at soup kitchens, but I cannot get the message to each of you directly that you are on my mind everyday.

I worry a lot that you may not know how much you are on the mind of myself and millions like me. I wish you could know.  I know it would not rise you out of your situation, but maybe it would give you hope even for a moment. At least for a moment.

These are the things I think about each morning as I stand before the mirror. These are the things I think about each time I see you on the sidewalk or the subway or in the stairwell or in the ATM vestibule or on the news.

My thoughts are not feelings though. It is my feelings that I most want to share with you. Even though l have all the thoughts above, to be honest, it is not my thoughts that will help you. I think it may be my feelings and the feelings of others like me.

Here is what I feel every morning as I stand before the mirror:  I feel shame. I feel shame for my species that we do not take better care of each other. (The shame I feel for the betrayal of our homeless veterans will live in me forever.) I feel shame that every one of us does not know that we are forever connected to every other one of us. Your fate is mine and my fate is yours.

I feel grief. I grieve for all the losses you have suffered. I grieve for the mistakes you have made and I grieve for the mistakes we have all made in our neglect, our indifference, our frustration at our own helplessness, our complacency. I grieve for you and me and all of us who share a home but cannot stop hurting and killing each other with violence and neglect.

I feel anger. I feel anger at our leaders, our citizens and myself for allowing this tragedy to go on and on and on and on and on and on without an end in sight.

I feel gratitude. I feel gratitude for those who spend their lives fighting the uphill battle to change the system, to change society, to change your life.  I feel gratitude, immense gratitude that I am not in your shoes. Yet.

I feel fear. I feel fear that your circumstances will get worse instead of better. I feel fear that the numbers of you will multiply exponentially. I feel fear that one day those I love may live as you do.  I feel fear that one day I will not have to imagine. I feel fear that one day I will know exactly how you feel. I feel fear that you will become very ill. I fear that you will die without knowing the joy and gratitude I feel when I climb into my bed at night.  I feel hope that some day you may know that joy – again or for the very first time.

I feel compassion. I feel my heart shattering into tiny bits when I think about you lying out on that freezing sidewalk night after night. My heart can barely contain the sorrow I feel at your unimaginable suffering.

I feel love. I feel love for you because you are a human being as I am. You came out of your mother’s womb with no guidebook or clue on how to navigate this treacherous, beautiful world.  I feel love because you have known betrayal, as we all have known betrayal. Somebody somewhere let you down.  Somewhere along the path you let yourself down.  Every one of us knows the feeling of being let down.  Every one of us knows the feeling of letting ourselves down.  For this I feel endless love for you.

Your circumstances are different from mine but your heart is not.  You know grief, fear, hope, love, despair and betrayal. I hope you have known love. If you have not, this grieves me the most because I wish you could read these words.

I say that the feelings in my heart as I stand before the mirror are more important than the thoughts in my head because I believe that it is the feelings in my heart – in the heart of every man and woman — that can and do lead us to Action.

Only action will bring you or I the life we each deserve. Your action. My action. The action of every person on earth. Large actions and small actions. Large actions by people with power. Small actions by people with less power or no power.

I do not know if it will be a trillion small actions or hundreds of large actions which may someday end homelessness.  I do not know if it will or can happen in your lifetime or mine.  I know it must happen. I know that every action, great or small, is better than no action at all.

I can imagine that if you were to read this, these thoughts would be too massive and overwhelming for you right now. You cannot think about “homelessness”. Homelessness is a cause, an issue, a tragedy,  You are not “homelessness”. You are not a cause or an issue or a societal problem. You are a man.  You are a woman. You are a child. You are a human being without a roof and four walls, without a bed or a sandwich.

And so I return to feelings. Mine and yours and all who may read this.  If you feel something in your heart when reading this, whatever it may be, may it lead you to action. Those with a home are the most likely to read this, so my prayer is that those with a home will act on behalf of those who cannot read these words… those without a home.

Every one of us share feelings. It is the most important part of being human that we all share.  Feelings are immensely powerful and can be devastatingly destructive or devastatingly healing.  We move blindly through this life trying to figure out what to do, how to survive amidst the powerful emotions that live within us, but as humans, our emotions are also our gifts, our tools, our blessings. It may (and will) take generations, centuries or even millennia, but my heart tells me the key lies in our emotions, our heart. Our individual hearts and our collective human heart.  I do believe that it is not only my heart but the collective beating of all hearts that moves me so powerfully each morning as I stand before the mirror.

It is love. So many words in this post and ironically it all comes down to one.  Love.

Love is the most overused four-letter word we’ve got, but it’s our word and even if we have failed this word up to now, I believe that it is not too late to make it as alive as we are.

If we only act.  Action is the bottom line because love is a verb (thank you John Mayer).

It is not mere coincidence that these thoughts and feelings come through me and out of me each day, as I stand before the mirror.  We all stand before the mirror, every day of our lives.

May we all create a home where we need not be ashamed of what we see.





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