Scene: Albuquerque, NM; St. Martin’s Hospitality Center (Day shelter for people experiencing homelessness)
As the shelter was about to close one day, a man was walking out with his backpack. The strap suddenly ripped and he looked up and let out a frustrated breath. Seeing him, I said ,“Hey, you know the shower station is closed now, but there are sewing supplies in there and if you come back tomorrow, you can use them to fix that strap. Or I could sew it for you if you want.”
I thought that maybe this man would return and fix his strap. I was proud of myself for offering my services, for offering a helping hand. I did not think much more of it. What I was not expecting was that this man would come back the next day and search for me in the incredibly crowded shelter because his backpack really was in dire need of some stitches. So, stopping my project of the moment, I went with this man – whose name I learned is Randy – retrieved the necessary supplies, and sat down with him to sew. As we sat, Randy told me a bit about himself and we shared conversation with those sitting around us. I sewed the first strap on his backpack and realized the loop at the top was only half attached.
“Do you want me to reattach this?”
“No, I’ll never use it. You can keep it. You can stitch my initials in it. To remember me.”
At first, I found this suggestion odd, but only very briefly. Randy had become, in my eyes, a man who was not to be pitied but admired and befriended. When I went to sew his backpack straps, I think I was, unconsciously, thinking of this as something I could do for someone else. It turned out that what I was doing was simply being with Randy and the others. We were sharing in our common humanity, we were being with one another as human beings. None of us were “getting on the other’s level” or changing ourselves to try to relate better. I felt a sense of utter equality and peace in knowing that this was not about solving anyone’s problems or leveling the playing field because there were no differences that mattered between us in those moments. We share the same air and growing space, the same world, and that is enough to tie us in ways that we cannot sever.
I had run out of thread on the first strap and the remaining thread options were dark blue and pink.
“So, you want the pink, right?” I said with a smile.
“Ah, no. The other – actually, yeah. Sew it in pink, so I remember.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
And there it was. An exchange of remembrances so simple that it may not mean anything to anyone else. But my backpack loop with the initials “R. J.” crudely embroidered, is a constant reminder of this man, what he taught me, and the humanity we all share.”
Class of 2015
College of Arts & Sciences
SBSJT 2014 Trip Participant
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