Monday, October 24

Shelter nights

I have a job. I am a counselor on the night shift at the Downtown Emergency Services Center's main shelter. The title is more impressive than the work. My responsibilities and duties are not so different from what I did at the House of Charity in Spokane where my title was Front Desk Worker as I provide basic services like handing out towels and toothbrushes. The significant difference is that maybe ten clients are awake at any one time at night. It makes for a lot of dead time once the preparations for breakfast are complete. But that's alright. I'll never take an hour of two clients coming off their highs, another two squaring off over whether one meant to bump the other's chair or not and yet another faking a seizure over an hour where a single client asks once for a cup of water and the rest mind their own business.

One regret I have about my time with the House of Charity is that I never made the effort to write about it until I had left it. I think this was due, in part, to an exaggerated concern of protecting client confidentiality and privacy and also to so many other things occupying my attention in my final two years of university. Now, however, I would like to take the time to reflect on my work with the homeless. I certainly have time as I spend my days off sitting alone in my living room while everyone I know is sleeping and all the places I would like to visit are closed, so you can look forward to this in the future.

For now, allow me to share my favorite things from this past month: one client said I looked like Asher Roth, another compared me to a young Clint Eastwood, I met again a client I had worked with in Spokane and who now had a part-time job and was looking healthier, and a client asked whether I was "undercover staff" because I was not wearing my ID badge.

Friday, October 21

Considering Graham Greene's "The Heart of the Matter"

I have no interest in novels that hinge on acts and practices of infidelity. That, along with the excessive praise, pretty well guarantees that I will never read Franzen's Freedom. The Heart of the Matter hinges on a practice of infidelity, but it's written by Graham Greene, and I would read 560-page novel about the men of the IRS if Greene wrote it.

What turns me off from stories of infidelity is how small they are. One or both partners are tired of the other. They are no longer the person they married. They are not living the life they had wanted. They need to make a drastic change. They have sex with someone else. They may or may not repent and return to their partner, but it doesn't really matter. It's petty and disgusting.

Through Greene, though, with Scobie and Louise and Wilson and Helen, though, there are stakes. There is the sense of a whim at the beginning of the affair, but it has consequences that matter to Scobie. It is nothing less than the fate of his immortal soul at stake as well as the emotional lives of the two women he loves. I appreciate that about Heart. Things matter in it. Scobie cares whether he takes the Body in a state of grace and how he upholds all his responsibilities and the duties of his job. If there was any irony on the part of the hero, I do not remember it. He has honor. It was refreshing.

To be sure, Scobie has a God complex. He has the arrogance to believe that his decision alone will determine the ultimate and unending happiness or pain of two women, but he is rescued by his absolute earnestness. There is nothing false or prevaricating about him. It's a razor edge that Greene follows to write Scobie. It would take only a suggestion of a complaint on Scobie's part that he deserved the promotion to commissioner or that he didn't deserve the travails thrust upon him to turn him into the sort of man that whines he is the nice guy that always finishes last, but Scobie maintains his dignity throughout in a place that is too often petty and evil. I, too, have a hard time holding much against a man who wonders whether, "If one knew ... the facts, would one have to feel pity even for the planets? If one reached what they called the heart of the matter?" and actually lives according to it, able to forgive even the man who openly and without dignity pursues Scobie's wife.

And the writing is just brilliant. The chapter where Scobie and Yusef wait for the arrival Ali is breathless.

Wednesday, October 19

Other runners

I admit it. I am a running snob. My own running schedule has been light and irregular for near two years now and so I still have the same running shoes I bought after graduating from Gonzaga, but I absolutely judge other runners when I pass them and they pass me. I'm disappointed in runners who wear long-sleeves when the temperature might be in the low 60's. I think less of those who hold their arms stiff and close to their bodies. I have to hold back a laugh when someone wears a belt with two water bottles stuffed in it when it's obvious they aren't running more than three miles.

Beside the runners who clearly know what they're doing, the only runners I really respect are the ones who have no idea what they're doing. There was a man I passed near every day for one summer in Spokane. He looked like a snowman with a ball of a head on top of a bigger ball of a body, his elbows had a wider range of motion than his hands and he wore a sweatshirt that had to have absorbed every drop of sweat he dropped during his run, but I respect him more than most all of the runners I see on the Burke-Gilman Trail. He wasn't waiting to be properly equipped with all of the latest gadgets suggested by Runner's World or with the latest, most high-tech fabrics and shoes from REI and The North Face. He, and the people who run in cargo shorts and their basketball shoes, are getting out there and running and not caring whether they look like runners. They are just doing it. I respect that.