Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you and yours had a good one…I know I did. But not for the reason that you might suspect. Let me tell you what happened.
This morning I was walking up Broadway. I was on my way to find an open coffee shop so I could check email and stuff. I was about halfway up the street to my favorite place when I heard someone call my name. I’m getting used to people recognizing me in town and yelling out at me. I always turn and look and wave.
This morning when I turned, it was Rick*. I looked both ways and crossed the street to chat with him a quick minute – checking my watch so I could be sure I wouldn’t be too late getting to the coffee shop. With few tables in it and so many places in town closed, it was sure to be a challenge to get a spot.
Sitting with Rick was Tammie* and Eric*. They are three of the homeless people here in town that I’ve gotten to know over the past year or so. I’ve also learned their stories.
Rick was an insurance broker in Florida. Several years ago, his two children were killed by a drunk driver. Rick, a non-drinker up until then, started to drink himself. Over an eighteen month stretch, he had drunk up a job and a marriage and had lost his home. Finding himself homeless and on the streets, he drifted up to Asheville.
Tammie is a 32 year old mother of two. About a month after her husband left her, the factory where she worked was shut down so the jobs could be shipped to Mexico. Unable to find work in this economy, she ran out of unemployment benefits and los her kids to the social services in the state where she lived. After getting two months late on her apartment rent, she was evicted. She also found herself living in Asheville.
Eric was a college professor. When his wife left him for another guy, Eric started to date some of the ladies in his classes. When the school administration found out, they terminated him. Living in a small college town, he was unable to find another job and got behind on his house payments. When his property was foreclosed on, he found himself on the streets. He too, followed the road to Asheville.
So anyway, they invited me to join them. I sat on the ground as Tammie pulled eight slices of bread from the wrapper, smeared some peanut butter on each slice then passed them around as we all chatted.
Before we dove into our meal, Rick suggested we each say what we’re thankful for. He went first. “I’m thankful for this guitar that someone gave me,” he said as he displayed a well worn guitar with a hole in it and two missing strings.
Eric spoke next. “I’m thankful for this bedroll that I found behind the Beverly Hanks Real Estate office”. He held up a soiled and dirty sleeping bag that had seen better days.
Tammie’s turn was next. “I’m grateful for this”, she said as she held up a small makeup kit that had been salvaged from the trash.
Finally, it was my turn. I gulped and looked away. What could I say? Compared to these three, I have so many things and so much to be thankful for today. I couldn’t tell them I was thankful for the big gig I had just gotten assigned to. I couldn’t mention the camera gear that I’ve been blessed with. I couldn’t talk about the great meal I had last night with a friend. So what could I say that I was truly thankful for and wouldn’t sound like I was maybe bragging about what I have?
Suddenly, it hit me. I knew what I was most thankful for. With a tear in my eye, I looked at each of them then spoke.
“Me? I’m thankful for true friends.”
And I meant it. These three have become my friends and they’re so different than many of the people sitting around tables of food today. So many people saying they’re thankful for jobs that they secretly – or not so secretly – hate. Saying they’re thankful for “friends” and at the same time gossiping about them. Saying they’re thankful for possessions that they actually feel enslaved to.
So this morning while many people sat on fluffy, comfortable furniture staring at the big, flat screen TV, and surrounded by all the things that bring a false sense of happiness, but absolutely no contentment; we sat in the dirt, eating peanut butter sandwiches. No ostentatious display of fancy dishes. No elaborate layout of food of all kinds in endless supply. Just four friends enjoying a simple meal together.
And that’s how Thanksgiving in Asheville with the homeless came to be.
*Names have been changed to protect their privacy.
Here’s an email I got this morning from someone who read the blog. Thanks for the kind words!