It was a Saturday and I was on my way to a workshop to learn about accompanying those on the margins. The subject was apropos because I am currently involved in efforts to support the homeless in Seattle. I did not eat breakfast at home, but stopped at a local fast food franchise on Capital Hill to grab something before the workshop.
The restaurant was crowded and I was annoyed because many of the people appeared to be homeless and they were slowing down the line with their fumbling for money and talking loudly among themselves. Some were poking around in the trash receptacles, looking for coffee cups since the restaurant provided free refills with a cup. I felt like my precious quiet breakfast was being sullied…
As I climbed into my car, I was overwhelmed with shame at my reaction – especially because of where I was going, to a workshop on accompanying those very people. I felt that I had been in their midst and I had failed. I did not greet a single person. I did not offer to buy breakfast for anyone. I don’t think I even looked anyone in the eye. I recoiled because my actions did not match my ideals.
And how did the workshop go? I learned that companionship is a response to suffering and isolation. I heard that accompaniment is a human relationship which supports recovery and maximum wellness. I learned this must be a public relationship. Most of all, I realized how even a flawed vessel such as I, a person who becomes annoyed when his precious bubble of privilege is threatened, can still be of use in this work. In fact, it is seeing our own flaws that may allow us to accompany those in the margins. We are not so different.