There is a famous story from the Pali canon in which the Buddha’s cousin and attendant, Ananda, asks, “Is beautiful friendship half of the holy life?” No, no – the Buddha replies, “beautiful friendship, beautiful companions, beautiful colleagues, this is the whole of the holy life.”
I first met Denise a few days after she arrived in Waltham on a Tuesday evening at the Bristol lodge women’s shelter. Over the next few months as Denise and I got to know each other, I learned about her life, her former husband, the house she once owned, and her family. An elderly white woman originally from Everett, Denise was evicted from her apartment in October 2019 and soon found herself in the shelter in Waltham. This was the first time that Denise had ever been deprived of housing, and, as many people have said, the initial shock can be overwhelming. Alone in a new city, it can take folks a few months to figure out the routine of life at the shelter, as well as where to go in the mornings when the shelter closes, where to eat, and how to manage the long stretches of time with little or no money and few welcoming spaces or familiar faces. When I first met Denise in October, she was clearly in shock, struggling to make sense of her new life. And yet, somehow, Denise, like so many others deprived of housing, managed to find her way, making new friends and carving out a new life for herself in the shelter and streets of Waltham.
A few days ago, on an unusually warm afternoon in early February, Denise and I were sitting on the steps of the library, and she explained to me a new dilemma: her time at the shelter was up and she would not be allowed back in for 20 more days. In addition, the emergency warming center was closed for the night—where could she spend the night? She could go to Malden and stay with a friend or try to get a bed at a shelter in Somerville, but then she would be away from her community and friends in Waltham, and she would miss our leadership group meeting the next morning. We talked about her options, she voiced her anxieties and hopes, and eventually I left for the night to go back to my home.
To my surprise, Denise found a way to stay inside somewhere in Waltham that night, and the next day, despite having had almost no sleep and a sore back from sleeping on the floor, she came to our leadership group meeting. It was a productive meeting, as everyone in the group voiced their opinions and thought together about different options, and we all felt a sense of pride in our shared venture and the statement we drafted to the city about homelessness in Waltham.
It is a particular joy for me to see folks coming together in beautiful friendship while living in homelessness. Yet I was still amazed that, after four months or so in Waltham, Denise had found community. As chaplains working with people experiencing homelessness, Becky and I have the privilege of witnessing how people create a sense of community and belonging among folks in the shelters and on the streets of Waltham. In our work, we do our best to support these efforts, creating spaces for people to come together and connect with us and each other. I feel much gratitude to be part of this community and to all of you who support us in this ministry. Thank you for recognizing the value of beautiful friendship, companionship, and community.