At the age of 14, I moved to a new city. I had much fear for my own future and for the future of planet Earth itself. I had for a long time been taken by bouts of anxiety and depression. I felt out of place in the society I had been born into, but wanted to learn about the world and to be a part of the solution. It was a hard and lonely time.
Higher Ground was a coffee shop up the street from me that served as a community center for regulars. Despite the awkwardness that came from years of isolation, I forced myself to talk with strangers. I pushed through the self-consciousness and social anxiety, and after meeting a few people, found a robust social life.
I started reading more and having long conversations about topics way over my head. I felt comfortable because of this community. I cared about these people and they cared about me. This gave me a feeling of strength, calm and security. I was part of an enduring community and that gave me hope for the future of humanity.
My dear friend Paul once told me, with tears in his eyes, “Patrick, people just don’t care about the human condition the way we do.”
I remember the hopelessness in Paul’s words. I never agreed with that notion. I feel that people do care. They are often just clouded by modern, industrialized civilization and all its distracting frills.
While Paul is no longer with us, I feel he would appreciate the argument, and that in the end he would concede. I feel that this insight is a tribute to his memory.
I went from this loving place of community to ending up alone on the streets for the better part of a decade. I have lost hope many times, only to pick myself up again and again. Every time I’ve lost everything, I’ve gained something else I could never lose: the knowledge that I could never truly give up.
If I had never known community, or felt I would never again, I might truly lose hope. I have learned to talk to strangers and to create my own community.
I’ve learned that some people aren’t nice, and that sometimes you have to move on to reach those who are more open minded.
That’s not to say that I give up on people. I just realize that I, myself, have limits. If I can’t help someone, maybe I can point toward someone who can.
My job out on the street is to direct people’s attention to the struggles we endure. If I can make a living doing that — if I can live in the urgency of here and now and still keep a roof over my head and food on my table — then I know there is hope for the future.
My career as a lifelong activist has only begun. I know that I’m yet to fully wake up to all that my mind and heart have cultivated over the years. The past five years of talking to strangers and friends has taught me how to truly do the work I have longed for all my life.
When I think of some of the most difficult times in my life, I remember the beauty and joy present even then. Even in those long years with no shelter, I always managed to make it home. Through community we can all find home, happiness and shelter.
Home is truly a mental state, and we take root in the places our trail has taken us. My childhood home where I felt secure — the one I thought would be there forever — never left me. I simply hid it deep inside.
After all these years of feeling as though I would never find home, I woke up to find I had been there all along. Open up to your heart, for you always carry that with you. If home is where the heart is, then it will always be there when you need it.
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