Behind every face is a story. When you look at someone’s face, you can only make guesses, or judgements, about the story based on what you think you see. Is there sadness or pain in their eyes? How old are the scars? How many sighs or laughs have those wrinkles experienced?
When someone shares their story, it can change how you see their face. We realize the scar was from a childhood accident. We learn the sadness is from the fear of an aging parent, or lost child, or of the future. We might learn the wrinkles are from decades of walking in the sun.
We decide what part of our story we share. This is why it is such an honor for us at Friendship House to hear stories – whatever part someone is willing to tell. When someone reveals a piece of themselves they are exposing more of who they are and becoming vulnerable. In response, we look at that beloved face with compassion: a gift we can offer back. When hearing a story with compassion, oftentimes you see the face as more precious, more loved, and more beautiful. We are all children of God on a journey to find home. How we listen and learn along that journey could affect how we see one another and ourselves.
We have already experienced hundreds of stories at the Hope Center. We are honored to share a few of these with you.
When we opened on December 15, we welcomed 73 people who otherwise would have come to one of our Code Purple locations this winter. One woman came without her husband because he was in the hospital recovering from serious liver issues. She cried as we did her intake explaining her fear he may not make it. She told us, “We have never been apart. I am scared to be alone.” We assured her she wouldn’t be alone and noted to check in with her daily.
A man came in with bottles of alcohol in every pocket. He looked ready for a party. “You can’t have that with you,” we let him know. He let it all be confiscated as he drunkenly walked into his new home. The next morning, he thanked us for this opportunity. He explained without the Hope Center, he was sure this would have been the winter he died. He’s 56. He’s been suffering from substance abuse for many years. He drinks so much that not drinking without medical assistance would likely kill him. Within a few days we had him connected to the DSAMH Bridge Clinic onsite at the Hope Center. Although it is not a straight road to recovery, he has been in recovery for five weeks now and he’s doing great.
One woman has been living in a state of homelessness for 25 years. She’s very capable of managing the basics of her life, but she is suffering from psychosis of some sort. She lives in fear that someone comes into her room and messes with her belongings. Regularly she will call us expressing her concern. We pull the key logs and verify with her that no one but her has been in the room. And, if someone was, it was to fix a light, her microwave, or to perform weekly housekeeping duties while she remained available to watch. No matter the convincing we do, she still calls us daily to remind us someone is entering her room unannounced. She is an artist, and around the holidays made beautiful picture frames from wooden popsicle sticks and wrote a lovely note thanking us for being so kind.
We have a family of eight at the Hope Center. The mother works downstate and early every morning she takes five of her seven children with her and drops them off with grandparents. Two of those children still attend school in person through a Maryland school district, who has arranged transportation to and from the grandparent’s house. The three younger kids are watched by grandparents. Her oldest two sons, both in high school, are at the Hope Center virtually learning. The oldest boy, who is eighteen years old, has access to a second car and will take himself and his brother to a local park to play basketball.
The journeys of our guests at the Hope Center are all unique and special. It remains a joy to be their loving, supportive community during this difficult time as they find their way home.