Kali was angry. The volume and high pitch of her voice that morning let every one at the Day Center know it. As folks came up the stairs, shaking off the winter cold and heading for a warm cup of coffee, she was pacing and yelling. Kali and I have a long and loving history that allowed me to walk over and ask: “What is it that is making you so angry this morning?”
Her response came out in a hiss:
“Anger is such a trivial emotion Becky. I am filled with rage!”
Over the next hour, I sat on the couch and paced the sidewalk with Kali,trying just to accompany her as these emotions raged on. She had spent most of the previous night at Waltham’s “Warming Center” just down the street, where people who are experiencing homelessness but cannot access other shelters, are allowed to sleep on the floor with a thin mat. It’s often called the Dog Pound in our community since that is what the building was most recently used for. The heating system is inconsistent. Blankets, pillows, and cots are not allowed. Instead, on one night recently, people were offered green garbage bags to slip over their legs for warmth.
“Aside from the symbolism of that,” Kali told me, “…you know, that we are human trash… plastic actually makes you sweat so we get wet and colder.”
At some point the night before this conversation, after festering on accumulated humiliation, Kali left the Warming Center to walk the streets. She has been arrested in the past there for expressing the rage she could not subdue.
Expressing unpleasant emotions is hard for most of us. But expressing powerful emotions can get you in trouble if you are experiencing homelessness and your survival depends on the mercy of institutions and authorities. Society seems to favor the “humble poor.” And the irony is that anger, even rage, is often an appropriate response to the humiliation, injustice, and desperation which comes with homelessness. Rage is what any sane person might feel.
As chaplains to this community of beloveds, our role is to do the opposite. We are called to listen to these emotions, to show unconditional love to the story teller and to bear witness to the accumulation of injustice which causes such hurt. I feel privileged every time someone trusts me enough to be so vulnerable in my presence.
Kali is a treasure of a human being: whip smart, funny, compassionate, and incredibly interesting to talk with. When she has had a bit of sleep and her chronic pain is manageable, Kali is a caretaker; she will open the door and let you go first. She has never given up on trying to heal herself from a life time of trauma and tragedy.
My love for Kali fills me the way her rage fills her at times. And when the two meet, our love and her rage, our love eventually wins. I am blessed with her forgiveness, and she with mine.
May you be blessed with love and forgiveness.
May you feel the safety to express your strongest emotions.
Thank you for supporting this ministry.
Come visit us some day!
Rev. Rebecca Sheble-Hall
Executive Director & Chaplain