“Commitment unlocks the doors of imagination, allows vision and gives us the “right stuff” to turn our dreams into reality.” ~ James Womack
This fleeting weekend appeared to be steeped in and oozing with the ideals of commitment. It certainly didn’t start out that way with this commitment “thing” being the core and focus of the two days that oddly whisked right by, but so be it. It was.
I hadn’t started thinking about it – commitment – until I received a frantic phone call from one of the kids who signed up to attend last night’s Midnight Run. She was exasperated that kids were dropping out with strange excuses from what has always been such a highlight of our many months that go by: homeless outreach in the center of New York City’s west side, late at night, extending ourselves to people who, under no other circumstance would we ever meet. And yes, that last line is something I hear myself say time after time to the kids as I brief them before each Run so they have a clear understanding of what it is we do when we head downtown, cars and a van laden with hot chili and coffee, clothing and blankets, toiletry items and eager teenage volunteers…this is what we do, I tell them. We extend ourselves to people who under no other circumstances would we meet. And they change our lives. Forever.
My volunteer, a young girl with a passion and intensity I don’t often see, was on the phone with me, frantic about this thing we discuss, this “commitment” we make to participating in the monthly homeless outreach, “What will we do if we don’t have enough sandwiches or volunteers?” Her panic was contagious and I found myself growing disappointed and angered by the idea of someone putting their name on a list to volunteer and then, at the 11th hour, dismissing it all as okay to bail, when it never is okay to simply walk away from a commitment and not honor it in some positive way. Perhaps, it’s me, I think. Perhaps I forget that not everyone sees commitment as I do…my bad, I guess.
But, I started this process of wondering what would have happened this weekend if Rob decided to not make a 7 a.m. plane from California to get back to New York in time to make the chili that we bring on our Runs for the men and women who are hungry and waiting for us? And, I keep wondering, what if I decided to just chuck the idea of showing up at the photo shoot I had at 5 in the afternoon yesterday before the Run, dismissing the family that hired me to photograph their patriarch on his 75th birthday? What if Jeremy and Bridget and Christina said “screw it all, it’s raining and we’d rather stay up in Quincy, Massachusetts than get into the car and drive for four hours and then do the Run? And what if all the volunteers in all of the groups that take part in the Midnight Run just shrugged their shoulders and blew it all off? Then where would we be, beyond the Run and then some?
Commitment to the Run is rarely an issue. Am I cavalier enough to believe that kids no longer need to be taught accountability? I always felt that the Pied Piper nature of our Run helped bring kids into the fold, so that they could learn the responsibility of caring for something well beyond their own needs.
Imagine my complete shock and awe when we met up with the hearty group last night who chose to go! There they all were, minus only two who blithely bailed, without foresight, leaving us without the required 15 bagged lunches apiece. But those kids who came made up for those who didn’t in their desire to make right what was wrong. We took our chili and our sandwiches, our blankets and our bagged lunches and toiletries, our collected clothes and ourselves and ended up having one of the better runs of a long time. We saw folks I hadn’t seen in ten or more years. We made new friends with those “just passing through.” I witnessed story-telling between the homeless and our kids and best of all, I watched as new friends hugged each other, with the well-wishes of those we came to serve, asking that we stay safe in those darkest hours of the early morning.
It’s good, this sense of commitment those who attend have. It’s part of the journey that will last with them for a lifetime. I know this to be true: I had the pleasure of bumping into a former student last week who is now a mother of a lovely 8 year old boy. Her first thoughts were about the Run and how the folks on the street were. She told me that she recently saw a man she had met years ago at our Thanksgiving Dinner for the Homeless and although she wasn’t certain he’d remember her, she went up to say hello to him. Not only did he remember her, he pulled out of his pocket an old, worn wallet and pulled out an equally old, worn photograph. It was of he and she at that Thanksgiving Dinner many years ago. How’s that for memory-making?
Hard not to think of that memory not being given the chance to exist, if this woman chose not to honor her commitment to volunteer, isn’t it?