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What Do You Hope For?

Just a few weeks ago I was in Knoxville, TN and had the chance to spend a couple of hours exploring the Knoxville Area Rescue Mission's facilities, getting to know some of the people who make up that great organization. A kind woman named Angie showed me around the facilities, and her smile broadened as we neared a particular classroom.

"This is a brand new initiative," she explained as we walked through the double doors. "It's called LaunchPoint, and it's a program to help the women and men in our program identify and prioritize the things they hope for in life."

Large pieces of poster paper hung from each wall, with each page holding a person's name at the top, followed by a list of things they desire and then clear action-steps that would help them move in the direction of those goals.

I spent some time perusing the LaunchPoint classroom, letting the simple audacity of these particular hopes hit me square between the eyes. One person's page--I'll call him Mark--wrote this: "Hope: Reconcile With Family. Goals: 1) Call Jen. 2) Apologize."

Another poster belonged to "Rebecca." She wrote this: "Living in my own apartment. With furniture...." Notice the period between the two thoughts. In my mind I could see her there in the classroom, blank poster spread before her on the table--her own undefined promised land. I watched as she thought, wondered and hoped, sorting through all the vast possibilities and yearnings that roil within us all.

At last she moved, and committed to words the longings that rose to the top: cosmetology college and her own apartment. But then she paused and thought "oh well, why not," and added the secondary bit--an extravagant, improbable flourish: "with furniture..."

How many places has Rebecca lived? How many apartments were not her own? Where has she been forced to seek shelter, and for what kind of "payment"? Maybe she did have her own apartment at one time. Was it a barren place? Cold, dilapidated, hollow? Lacking all furniture?

Shelter is at the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and safety is just one level above that. As someone who has enjoyed the vast luxury of exerting most of my waking hours toward the "Esteem and Self-Actualization" categories, it's always a welcome gut-punch to be with those who are struggling to realize aspects of the more foundational categories. Being with such men and women relativizes my own struggles, transforms my greed into gratitude, promotes compassion.

Perhaps that's what George MacDonald means when he writes in At The Back of the North Wind:

To try to make others comfortable is the only way to get right comfortable ourselves, and that comes partly of not being able to think so much about ourselves when we are helping other people. For our Selves will always do pretty well if we don't pay them too much attention.

Our Selves will always do pretty well if we don't pay them too much attention...

Necessary words in our culture of narcissism, autonomy, and marketed selfishness. Necessary words for me, too, as I so often try to establish my own "self-actualization" not--ironically--by serving others, but instead by comparing myself to others "higher up" than I am. Others who are more published than me, more in-demand than me, more eloquent than me. Others with more influence, more relevance, more income.

But then I stop, and remember: I have enjoyed many apartments in my life. Not one of them without furniture...

Comment Author Comment Text

Member Since:

Makes me uncomfortable and makes me feel guilty that I don't DO anything about what is in my heart.

Posted: 2013-04-18 15:59:17


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