Homeless Love

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Abby Hevert, ’15

I have worked with homeless people since the beginning of September. In that time, I have worked tirelessly to find these people homes, especially amidst the gloomy and frigid weather that Rhode Island has given its residents. My clients struggle with many different things. Universally, they have experienced trauma, often starting in childhood and continuing on to their days in shelter or on the street. Until I started working with these people, I did not understand that homelessness in and of itself is traumatic. It is completely destabilizing and truly shakes people to their cores. It disrupts peace and removes certainty. Homelessness tests the strength of those who are subject to it by adding extra stressors: divorces, child custody issues, health problems, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and even monetary abuse. Therefore, the homeless try to find ways to cope. Yes, it is true that some may turn to different substances to try to ease their pain. And while many people may find this hard to believe, I am a witness to true beauty every day I go to work. This is because I get to see how unwavering, steadfast, and wonderful Homeless Love can truly be.

And yes, in some ways I am talking about romantic love. I have worked with couples who do not stop holding each other’s hands throughout the entire day. They steal kisses from one another when they think no one is watching. These couples still look at one another with adoring glances when they are standing in line for food stamps and have not showered in days. And while they do argue and disagree, they often are forced to put these differences aside because of the unique stressors they face. Suddenly, when they become homeless, the disagreements that most couples have about things like perceived insensitivity or jealousy become insignificant. These issues become petty because more important things take center stage. Basic needs become the priority as they merely try to survive in a world that constantly rejects them. When I asked one couple what keeps their love for one another so strong, they simply answered: “Being homeless is too hard to do without someone else. You just need a partner to help you get through this time in your life.”

Sometimes these partners come in less traditional forms. Often, older women will try to take younger women under their wings as they navigate the shelter system. They demonstrate a kind of motherly love and concern for the women who are young enough to be their daughters. Often, some unlikely pairs develop. One man with cognitive issues and mental delays may pair up with a big, strong, and well-functioning man, who protects the cognitively impaired one with a kind of brotherly love. Then there are the people who do not want, and believe that they do not need, anyone. However, despite their best attempts to keep others away, their homeless peers still make sure to invite them to go get meals at the local soup kitchen.

However, the truest form of Homeless Love can best be seen in the face of devastation. When one of their own dies, the homeless often rally with one another to mourn their deaths. Too often, the homeless may try to cut their misery short by taking their own lives or nursing their wounds with drugs that may cause their demise. And then, their homeless peers are forced to grieve the loss of their friends. This is partly done by candlelight vigils, performed to honor and preserve the dignity of all homeless lives. When the homeless die, they often do not have the monetary resources to hold proper funerals. And, so, they often die without proper recognition or anyone to claim them as their own. However, Homeless Love usually prevails as the departed person’s homeless friends gather to honor the life of someone who helped his or her peers simply get through homelessness. In a way, the homeless are all partners in the same journey toward peace and stability. Their devotion to one another does not die even in the wake of physical death.

And this, in my opinion, is what true love is all about. It is about loving each other, whether romantically or in the form of friendship, to the end in an unconditional way. It is not about giving of oneself and expecting something in return. It is, instead, a sweet offering of loyalty and companionship. It is not dressed up and does not insist on fancy dinners or extravagant gifts. It sustains us in the darkest of times. This kind of true love is happy with simple conversation, warm hugs, and words of encouragement. It is not proud or boastful; it is humble and quiet. Really, this life of ours, not only makes love look hard, but it makes it work hard. And again, this love can be demonstrated with our families, our friends, our colleagues, or significant others. It is not enough to show up; we must show our beloveds our whole selves, even if we do not look our best, did not get the job, or did not have money for the gift. Really, we must all strive for the kind of love that is bare, not the kind of love that is embellished.

We must strive for Homeless Love.

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Make Gentle the Life of this World

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Abby Hevert, ’15

On April fourth 1968, a man died. The adjectives used to describe him could probably never accurately define the breadth of his impact or the depth of his life. He did not pass away peacefully, but instead was robbed of a life that helped to change, and is still changing, the social and political framework of the United States of America. Many people know him for a speech that he gave on another April day. It is often called the “I have a dream speech,” and Martin Luther King Junior delivered it. In it, he details his dreams for America and its youth: I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character…I have a dream today.

And while many people know and love this speech, they often do not reference another speech that is, in my opinion, one of the most eloquent addresses in American history, the speech that Robert Kennedy gave on the day that Martin Luther King Junior died. In it, he pleaded for peace, nonviolence, tolerance, and solidarity among all Americans in the wake of King’s death:

 So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King, yeah that’s true, but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love – a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke

….

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.

The phrase “life of this world” always struck me as important. It implies that the world is not a place where we live; it is a place that lives and is affected by the actions of the people who populate it. It has a life of its own, and has stories of its own. We are all involved in a kind of plot where we climb the climaxes and stumble into its valleys. King even mentions these ups and downs in his speech:

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight…

 And this is what the life of King did; it started to make his dream come true. This is the life well lived. It dreams extravagantly and works toward those dreams day and night. It is consumed by these dreams and must accomplish these dreams. And while many of us have many dreams, only some are these all-consuming kind of dreams that seem as though they are requirements for living instead of things in life that we would like to have. Sure, I dream of one day owning my own jeep wrangler and a house on the beach, but I must become a social worker who will help to heal the human spirit. One of my professors calls this phenomenon a kind of “internal musting:” actions that we must perform instead of actions that we think we should perform. Some people call it a calling and it can come in many forms. Maybe you are called to be a teacher or a lawyer or a banker. Perhaps you are meant to be a father or a mother. Maybe you are called to open a nonprofit or a foundation. Or maybe you are called to level the metaphorical playing field for all of America’s youth by working toward fairer governmental policies. No matter what this “musting” is, you must do it. Listen intently and make decisions accordingly.

And, yet, it is especially important that we all follow the same dream that Kennedy delineated in his speech. We must all work toward making “gentle the life of this world.” It is necessary that we use our gifts, with which we are all undoubtedly bestowed, to create straighter paths, lower mountains, and higher valleys. After all, we are all given one life and these collective lives make up the life of this world.

 So, we may as well tame the savageness of the human condition in the name of Martin Luther King Junior and all of the martyrs who have died to make the life of this world just a little more gentle.

P-Secrets

AbbyDefaultAbby Hevert, ’15

A few weeks ago, I posted an article about a new social experiment at Providence College. I asked my PC peers to anonymously submit secrets to me so that we can all have a better understanding about who we really are, and not just who we pretend to be. I heard from many different students, and some of their secrets are presented in this article. These secrets display the unique struggles that we go through every day and, more importantly, the striking reality of our immense efforts to hide these troubles. PC is often thought to be a kind of “bubble” where we all live, safe from the evils of this world. And, while this is partly true, we all bring more to the metaphorical table than we probably realize. At this table sit those who struggle with self-hatred, family problems, and battles with addiction. Here at this table, sit those who disguise, hide, and pretend to be perfect.

One of our peers says this: “I am a typical, PC girl. Dress in J. Crew, drive a nice car, and have a great group of friends. One of my parents has a severe addiction problem, and I have been dealing with him/her going in and out of rehab/homelessness the last 18 years of my life.” She is not alone as many of her peers also have difficult family lives. One says: “I met my uncle for the first time months before he was sent to jail for murder.” Still more admit to secret divorces within their family, one senior admitting that his or her parents divorced two years ago, and that his or her friends still do not know. Our families can make us cry, and calling home is often difficult, either because of relationship issues or because of underlying abuses: “Every time my stepmom calls me, her words cut through me like a knife and I’m brought to tears.” Another one of your peers admits to the instability in her home. Her mother “verbally and physically abused [her] for 3 years and it took a broken arm, even after 8 police and Child Protective Services visits, to get [her] out of [her mother’s] custody.” Our siblings can even cause concern: “Manic depression consumes an otherwise happy sibling.” Sometimes, we just want to save ourselves and each other: “My father’s mental illness has torn my family apart everyday since I was in the fourth grade. I wish everyday I could save him.” Some of our families also do not share in the affluence that many of our PC peers demonstrate: “Last week, I checked my bank account and found that I had only $15 left. Many people at PC can joke around and call themselves ‘broke college students,’ but it’s a different story when you go to Alumni to get a sandwich and realize you can’t afford it.”

Often, though, we struggle with our own mental health issues. Too many of us struggle with actual and real self-hatred and self-discomfort. One of us says: “I set very high expectations for myself. When I don’t meet those expectations I purposely punish myself, like skipping a meal or not getting enough sleep.” We are very, very concerned about not only what we think of ourselves, but what others think of us: “I have to pretend to drink more than I actually can when I go out because I don’t know how to tell my friends about my anxiety disorder and medication.” This is partly because many of us have a preoccupation with pleasing others: “I can’t handle letting people down.” Unfortunately, sometimes these internal battles within ourselves lead us to extremes: “I’ve attempted suicide twice.” “Nobody can see the cuts…I go to counseling and even check myself into Butler [Hospital] when I feel unsafe. I want to be better but my biggest secret and my biggest fear is that I’ll always be unhappy and no amount of help will get me out of it.” We sometimes have illnesses that make us doubt ourselves and those around us: “I think I have an Anxiety Disorder but am too afraid to tell my parents because I think they will think I am being ‘over-dramatic.’” And, so, we do not tell each other. And, instead, we let our secrets morph into paralyzing doubt. Too many of us have trouble getting through every day activities because of these issues. Some of us even have complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and cannot get out of bed on certain days. Some of the people closest to us often do not understand the things that plague us: “My roommates always joke about what I eat and how I eat so specifically but they don’t know I eat so little because I’m still recovering from bulimia/ I’m still bulimic.”

We often compare ourselves to others: “I only got offered the job after someone else turned it down. Everyone else got their first pick on the first try. Now I don’t know if I want to work for someone where I wasn’t the first choice.” This idea of being a “first choice,” or any choice for that matter, afflicts many of us. A few peers confessed: “I am so scared of being alone.” In fact, some of think that if we have not yet been in a romantic relationship, then no one will ever want us: “I feel like I’m the only one of my friends who hasn’t dated someone or isn’t dating anybody in college. It makes me feel unwanted and alone.” Also, the people we love sometimes don’t necessarily love us back: “The person that I’ve had unrequited feelings for [during] the past two years is hooking up with my best friend who knows how I feel about her.” We get afraid of somehow falling behind the rest of our peers and that scares us as well. Some of us are embarrassed about our virginity: “I am still a virgin and I get scared that no one will ever want me because of it.” The idea of not fitting certain molds often disturbs us. A few people wrote that they are gay and they have not told a soul, for fear of what people may think. As a result, many people are living secret lives, caught between a desire to be accepted and a desire to be happy.

And this is the ultimate tragedy. Many of us consider happiness to be a “catch twenty-two.” We sometimes believe that we have to keep our secrets in order to be happy. I am here to tell you, finally, that this is not the case. I also am here to tell you that you are not alone. Find the safe people with whom you can have the tough conversations. If our secrets die with us, then we deprive the world our whole selves as we offer only our seemingly “best” parts. I hope that we can be more aware of not only our whole selves, but about the secret plights that others undergo. So, the next time I become frustrated with a friend, a family member, or a stranger, I vow to consider the possibility that the person may be experiencing something I cannot fathom. We all bring something concealed to our Providence College table- I promise that the next dish I bring will be a huge plate of acceptance and compassion. I hope you can bring some too.

I think we are all starving for it.

Tell Me Your Secrets, I’ll Tell You Who We Are

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Abby Hevert ’15

Nothing makes us so lonely as our secrets.  -Paul Tournier, Christian Physician & Psychotherapist

Sometimes, when I am walking around campus in between classes, I take a break from checking my phone and look up to see my Providence College peers. They are, on the surface, practically perfect. Scenes of thin, pretty girls clad in Hunter Boots and J Crew sweaters fill my eyes. Handsome boys in similar preppy or athletic fashion also pass by. Both genders talk about the quizzes coming up in their classes, the people they have been texting, the events coming up this weekend, and their respective club meetings this week. They have everything going for them. Most have been on sports teams in high school or took part in student council. Providence College students are, no doubt, successful people. However, I am also curious about what happens to us when we close the door to our dorm rooms. When we get the bad news. When we get rejected. When we embarrass ourselves. When we have to go see the doctor. When we get scared. When we have trouble paying our bills. When we can’t sleep. When we call home. When home calls us.

I have written, at this point, a few different articles on being imperfect and experimenting with failure. Many people have reached out to me, throughout the PC community, who have expressed the relief in realizing that there is at least one person in this world who shares one of their same fears. There is so much peace in realizing that we are not alone. Yes, we may still get hurt. But, at least we know that we get hurt together. We are not some exceptions to “the rule”; every human goes through hardship. The difficult part about hard times is that we sometimes convince ourselves that no one else is going through them as well. As a result, we bury our secrets inside of us. We decide to not tell anyone about the things that make us squirm, make us doubt ourselves, and make us lose sleep. And, so, what happens? The squirming continues, the doubt morphs into paralyzing shame, and the insomnia makes us sick. We begin to seclude ourselves and continue to cultivate this shame. After all, everyone has two stories. One people want you to know, and one they do not.

I am in the quest of finding out what is not so pretty about us, what makes us nervous, what makes us sad, what makes us disappointed, what makes us…us. After all, if we knew more about each other, our compassion for each other would increase exponentially. We would know just a little bit more about the lives our peers really live, and not just the ones they pretend to live. We could also feed our own souls by knowing at least one other heart in this world may beat with not-so-perfect vibrations as well. We could find other hearts that say to our hearts: “you are not alone.” Oh, these hearts exist. They exist in your dorm hallway. They exist in your economics class. They exist in the library. They exist at Providence College.

So, it is now that I ask my PC classmates: What is your second story? What is one thing that you would never want anyone to know? It is through the vehicle of this article that I ask you all to participate in a new movement called P-Secrets. Similar to the literary phenomenon “Post Secret” I am asking for anonymous submissions of secrets about yourself, and no one else. Comments will be censored for slanderous language about other people. This is not a time to confess anything to any one person in particular; it is a time to let a secret out into the world in order to promote the notion that “we are not alone.” These secrets will be submitted through an anonymous survey so that I will not even know the names of those who submit. It will be through this survey that I can compile a new article about the things we hide from each other for the sake of seeming perfect to one another. It will, hopefully, become one that we can all reference when we feel as though we are in this battle against ourselves by ourselves. After all, the battle at keeping our secrets has been long and hard. It is time to put down our armor and expose our hearts. The time, now, is for rest.

Now is the time for respite from the things that secretly plague us.

Follow the link to take part in P-Secrets:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/JFYG7SB