Seth Guge | What A Night In A Homeless Shelter Will Reveal.
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What A Night In A Homeless Shelter Will Reveal.

Last night I experienced something I thought I would never experience. I spent the night in a homeless shelter. I didn’t stay there because I had to, but because I was curious. I was curious about this other world that only some less fortunate have to wander. This undertaking allowed my spirit to undergo an awakening, insights of empathy, and a time of unanticipated wonder.

For many months now I have been assisting a homeless women and her four children. Through many gestures of giving to her family, through time and resources, I still had a lack of real empathy. What was this mother of four really going through every night resting her head in a local shelter? The only way I could try to relate was to walk in her shoes for a day. So, I decided that I too would spend the night in the local homeless shelter.

On this cold rainy night in October, I anxiously stepped into the shelter and gestured that I needed a place to stay. I was graciously given a pillow and blanket and was fortunate to find one last mattress in the middle of the sterile concrete room. The intense florescent ceiling lights were pouring down on the twenty-five of us in the room like spotlights, revealing all our blemishes and scars, as though our lives were on trial. No matter where you turned, sunburn faces and calloused feet were always in view. Men positioned ten inches apart from one another, hovering over six inch mattresses that modestly padded the cold tile floor.

For a newbie, falling asleep appeared impossible. The veterans seemed to fade off as soon as their heads hit the pillow. It was as if their bodies had a different gravitational pull, allowing them to melt into their mats. How tired their bodies must be from the constant walking and pursuits for simple comforts.

The vigorous echo of coughing became a constant vibration in the room. The sense was that these coughs weren’t your regular, turning of the season coughs, but rather eluded to a deeper awareness of neglected health. The coughing would be interrupted by a continues shifting and turning of uncomfortable bodies. The blankets seemed to resemble the roaring waves of a playful, windy sea.

While lying there in the shelter, counting the 213 ceiling tiles, profound reminders seemed to invade the space:

#1 – We take nothing with us

How fortunate for the people that have nothing, to so richly understand that in the end, we take nothing with us. To the others in the shelter, this was just another night, and this is all they have. Perhaps they have a couple dollars in their pockets or a garbage bag full of extra cloths, but for the most part, this space, for the night, was all they had. I had a loving wife and three children at home sleeping in a wonderful, four bedroom house. As I missed them deeply, I felt grateful for my blessings. But, I wondered how can I fully grasp that I take nothing with me when I leave this earth. This is not a morbid thought, but rather a refreshing inspiration of the reminder that to loose, can also be to gain.

#2 – Gratitude for what we have 

How truly delightful is a shower? How marvelous is a cup of coffee? After a night in the shelter, you’ll discover a new appreciation for a simple cup of coffee. This coffee will far outweigh the cup after a nice resultful sleep in your plush bed. This coffee outshines your ordinary daily coffee because it’s a symbol. A symbol of one more thing that you get to enjoy, not because you’re entitled to it, but because it’s simply a gift you can truly be thankful for.

#3 – Don’t waste your life 

As you lie in the shelter, you sense a feeling of hopelessness as you have no control over your environment. You can’t choose when to turn the lights on or off. You can’t decide what to put on the television. And you certainly can’t choose who gets to share the space with you. While lying helpless in the shelter, you realize how many freedoms, and how much control you normally have in your life. Control and freedom to not waste your time on meaningless tasks that seem to keep us in bondage. Abundant control to manage yourself in ways that allow you to flourish and prosper. And a freedom to embark on new roads or try new, scary things for the first time.

Although the experience in the shelter wasn’t as someone who is truly homeless, a renewal was kindled inside that allowed a deeper dive into empathy. Not only empathy for others but, an empathy for a brighter way to live, love, and reflect life.

By Seth Guge / 10|12|17

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