Twelve Days of Christmas Novel

The Twelve Days of Christmas Novel (Part 8)

Photo by David Orsborne on

Chapter 15:

            Grant struggled to get off the floor.  He couldn’t remember feeling so sore.  “I’m still in this alternate reality,” he sighed.

“It is going to be a beautiful day.” Wilson proclaimed as he rolled up his sleeping bag. “The Second Day of Christmas.”    

            “Two turtledoves?” Grant managed a laughed.

            “Doves are a symbol of peace and joy.” Wilson held.

            “I always see birds as a nuisance, pigeons particularly.”

            “Pigeons are cousins of turtledoves and pigeons are noble birds that were ‘spies’ in World War II.  They are able messengers, with honing capabilities engineers only dream of.  My commanding officer in the Army always talked about the power of something as small as a pigeon and if we could learn to communicate with the joyous heart of a peaceful dove.”

            A bell signaled it was time for breakfast before it was time for the building to be evacuated.  Saint Anthony’s rents out the gym during the day for various intramural leagues, many that cater to street and foster kids.  The 3 on 3 Christmas Championships were scheduled to be held later in the day.

            “May we celebrate the Second Day of Christmas in the feast day of Saint Stephen,” Father Rowan commissioned. “Stephen was a social worker, an early disciple, working to provide food and care for those in need.  He was a man full of the power and grace of the Holy Spirit.  Stephen worked out of love, love from Christ.  He is the first martyr to die standing up in the love of Christ, persecuted and condemned by the world.  Yet in his suffering, even in the face of death itself, Stephen was full of joy.  He was filled with the spirit of love and that gave him the gift of joy even in suffering.  He knew that the persecution of the world is only temporary, and God is just and keeps his eternal promise.  You are going out into a world of hate, but sow love.  You are left in a state of wandering but know that Christ is with you.  Love your enemies and be joyous even in trial and suffering.”

            “How can one talk of joy, when they are disenfranchised, dehumanized by society,” Grant debated. “Love I understand, but to shout joy in adversity and suffering, even in the dark fear of death.  I cannot wrap my mind around that.”

            “Fear paralyzes, joy moves mountains.” Wilson whispered. “Joy in adversity isn’t rose-colored glasses, it is an acknowledgement that love is more powerful than fear and joy is a gift that comes from the peace of love in Christ.  Fear only has power if we let it destroy us.”

            “He was stoned to death.  Death is death?”

            “Death of the flesh is death, only fear and hate can kill a spirit.  His joy came from the Holy Spirit.”

            “One of the men who persecuted and stood by during the stoning of Stephen was a man named Saul.  He was full of hate for the early Christians and was blind to the light of truth.  Stephen prayed for his persecutors, that they might find redemption.  That act of love, even in suffering, was an action of faith and joy that was answered by God. Saul, the persecutor, was later called out of darkness of hate to Christ’s love, transformed by love and joy in the Holy Spirit, out of the persecuting world.  Paul became one of the great evangelizers and theologians in Christianity.  My point?  God works through our brokenness, the flesh might suffer, persecuted by the world, but God is actively at work in our spirit and the joy of his grace and light of love gives us joy.  Joy of trust that we have an advocate, a light out of darkness.”  Rowan continued. “May you be blessed in that joy, the joy to endure and to love…”

            “I still don’t see joy in trial.” Grant sneered.

            “Joy is a gift of the spirit indeed.  The world tries to bring you down, but sorrow is turned to joy when you know love of Christ.” Wilson praised.  “Joy becomes something as simple as a loaf of bread when you’re hungry, a drink of water when you thirst and a knowledge that beyond this scarred flesh, your soul has a chance, a path from sorrow to joy.”

            After a breakfast of muffins, milk and orange juice, Betsy Horton tracked Grant down.

            “I spoke with Marissa Bright.  She will see you tomorrow.  I think Saint Jude’s program is a good fit for your situation, they are adept to deal with even the most desperate situations.  You’ll need to be on site by eight o’clock in the morning. I recommend getting to Saint Jude’s as early as possible, as a line generally forms by six o’clock and I don’t want you to lose your spot at the center.”

            “Thank you, Betsy.”

            “God bless you,” Betsy hugged Grant.

            “Do you know anything about Saint Jude’s Community Center?” Grant asked Wilson.

            “It is a great place.  Marissa, Noelle, and Benny are good people.  They helped me with transitional housing and access to healthcare, it helped me get a leg up while I searched for a job. I’m still floating, but I’m in a much better set of circumstances because of their help. Sadly, they lost a lot of funding the past year, budget cuts at corporations halted several charitable donations.  ‘Real Change,’ reported that they might have to stop several key programs in February, unless the money comes through.”

            “So, you think it is worth it to travel to Capitol Hill to try to get a spot?” Grant still held a slight grudge against Marissa, although he knew the reaction was his stubborn pride.  Marissa is a far better person than him.  If he had relied on her wisdom and advice to begin with, Grant doubted he’d be in this homeless state now.

            “I pray you get in.  If not, Marissa will point you in the next best direction.” Wilson advised.

            “You’ve been a good friend.  Thank you.”

            “No worries.  You just do the same for others when you can.  Now let’s get to Warm Friends.  You need a sleeping bag for these cold Seattle nights.”

            Located in the basement of Elliott Bay Sports, Warm Friends is an outreach center providing coats, gloves, hats, sleeping bags, mats, and blankets to transients. Elliott Bay Sports provides a majority of the donations, including thirty high quality sleeping bags per month, as well as camping mats. 

            “Happy Holidays,” the volunteer manning the mission acknowledged Wilson as a friend.

            “Renee, this is Grant.  He just hit the street after falling on hard times.  He lacks a decent sleeping bag and mat.  Not to mention a warm water-resistant jacket.  Any help would be greatly appreciated.”

            “We’re out of coats, at least for a few more days, when our retail partners clear house after their Christmas sales end.  I do have one sleeping bag left.  It is a mummy style bag that will keep you warm down to temperatures of zero degrees.” Renee pulled down a sturdy bag.  “Here is a mat.  Do you need a tarp?”

            “I have a tarp.” Grant was grateful for the items.  Funny that a few months back he was reviewing NWTC’s camping gear ad campaign.  Ironic that he now was forced to rely on a sleeping bag for a bed, a non-profit for this lifeline of his now homeless existence. “I appreciate your help.  It means a lot.”

            “I hope this keeps you warm until you get into a permanent housing situation,” Renee smiled. “Best of luck to you.”

            “We have three hours until lunch is served at Wayside Fellowship.  We could go to the library.  It is a good place to relax without worrying about the cold temperatures and rain.”

            “Is that where you normally go on the days you’re not working.”

            “It depends.  Some days I’m at the workforce center trying to find additional work.  Other days I go to the DESC Day Shelter, sometimes I walk countless hours, just enjoying the heartbeat of Seattle…often us residentially challenged, look for public spaces to spend the day, coffeehouses, libraries, parks…You are not allowed to sit or lie on sidewalks, unless you want a citation, not to mention the nasty cattle calls society throws your way, you have to stay on the move.”

            “Where do you usually sleep?”

            “Since starting work at St. Nicholas, I have been blessed with the joyous gift of staying in the abbey on most nights.  It is just a bed, but it is safe.  I used to camp in parks, sleeping in bushes.  I got a few citations for being there after hours.  I slept under the Denny Overpass, but there was a lot of drugs and beatings there.  I got beat-up by homeless addicts and some angry souls.  I then found a haven at the DESC shelter.  On nights I couldn’t get in, I slept on Pioneer Place sidewalks, careful to wake up in the morning by six o’clock, so to avoid being fined.  I got beaten up by drunks a few nights, not to mention spat at and degraded.”

            “That’s horrible.” Grant realized he had once been the spiteful passerby, despising the person behind the face of homelessness.

            “I let it roll off my back.  It is ignorance, they don’t understand.  Sometimes you have to see through the eyes of a beggar to serve as king.”

            “You sound like Saint Nicholas,” Grant laughed.



“You had your routines depending on the day.  I have it memorized which days what services are provided and by whom.  You know the time it takes to reach one part of the city to the other.  You live by instinct, never too close, never too comfortable, always on the move.  You put your trust in God.  The anxiety gets to me on some days more than others.  I’m grateful for my job at the Abbey.  I’d really like to get a job as a bagger or stocker at a grocery store.”

            “You don’t find that a menial job?” Grant remembered the FLEX Plan.

            “You live on the street, without a job and all you want is to work.  It is a joy to have a job, even one as simple as being a bagger.  Those are services that need to be done and the pay, though small, is a check with benefits.”

            “With your easy-going personality and positive attitude, I don’t know why they wouldn’t hire you.”

            “I have a criminal record, nothing major, just a night in jail for stealing food when I was first on the streets.  I was angry at the world then and felt entitled to the stolen goods…my record has kept some employers from hiring me, but I have gotten some temp jobs.  Every time you take a step forward, no matter how small it may be, you have joy and gratitude, because you are moving closer to your goal.”

            “Where should I sleep tonight?” Grant feared he’d be wandering the streets listlessly waiting for the dawn of the next day.  He thought about his family.  Did they know who he was or had that been taken from him as well.  Funny how he never cared about his family, until they were gone.  He had forsaken their love, scorned them, when their love pure and life giving. Had he burned his bridges to the point that they would not even give him a bed and food? 

            “I would offer you a spot on my floor at the abbey, but it is very cramped.  I think you should aim to get into the Capitol Hill Shelter.  It is only a few blocks from Saint Jude’s.  The Capitol Hill Shelter has 300 beds.  You must check in by five o’clock.  The line starts to form around three o’clock.”  Wilson informed. “I say we go to the library a few hours; I’ll give you the scoop on services, and then we’ll get lunch at Wayside.”

            The Seattle Central Library is a modern edifice that defies perception of architecture.  It towers 185 feet, a monolith of glass and steel, a castle in the clouds, a sanctuary and gathering places for all people. 

Grant rarely stepped foot into libraries, even one as modern and posh as the Seattle Central Library.  In his former life, a library is a space marred by the lesser echelons of society.  He didn’t like to interface with the public.  He had grown accustomed to his executive functions and private clubs.  Grant’s solitary nature, a misanthrope of sorts, shunned interaction, preferring to be alone.  He preferred to judge others from a pedestal of ivory, a glass house. 

Entering the library, he was joyful for shelter from the cold.  Grant looked up at the glass ceiling, his own ego shattering.  The pain of recognizing the malice in his heart, jagged, cutting harsh as shattered glass.  He didn’t like facing down that anger, the fear.  He struggled with the tension of conflict as he worked to come to terms with the ghost of his past lives, the pain he’d inflicted on others, his selfish desire and obstructed vision.  The power of first light, the moment when the sky brightens like a flare of fire, overwhelming the senses, is humbling and painful, blinding, because you are so obstructed and accustomed to darkness.

The futuristic library is known for its unusual, yet functional design.  SCL has 1.5 million books, spread across its 362,987 square feet.  Each of the eleven stories is brims with nooks for reading, over 400 public computers, desks, and workspace as well as a theatre, music and writer’s workshop spaces, coffee stands and a library gift shop. 

“The SCL has worked to coordinate with the area’s residentially challenged and impoverished patrons.  It hasn’t been easy.  In the past sectors of the homeless population got into fights in the library, were doing drug deals in the lobby, sleeping in chairs and harassing patrons.  Some had mental problems, however many of the problems came from anger and bitterness, disrespect.  It is hard to respect the other when you don’t respect yourself.  To love when anger clouds your soul.  Add in drugs and the violence that stems from dependency.  It’s a complex balance, between helping out a neighbor in need and a problem.” Wilson noted. “My point is that libraries are our greatest public resource, a place where we can enjoy a day inside from the cold, lost in the fantasy of a book or bettering our intellect and skill set.  Just because we are residentially challenged doesn’t make us immune from respecting others and this public space.  Abide by the rules and be joyful for this gift.  Don’t get angry and self-entitled even in the simplest of places.  To be respected we must give respect as well.”

“You are a sage man, Wilson.”

“No, I am a stubborn man who learned each of these lessons the hard way, through experience.  Once you realize you don’t know anything and are willing to listen with a heart full of love, you start to learn and understand wisdom.  Every day you are learning and have to listen and grow.”

Wilson led Grant to a nook of the library dedicated to helping those in need of employment or social services.  The computers in this wing have links for area outreach programs, job search engines, resume software, tutorials on word processing and other useful tools for navigating life on the fringes.

Services like this, trivial as they may appear, empower the powerless. Having an email address, offers homeless job seekers a way of communication when applying for jobs, services and staying in touch with family and friends. Search engines provide research portal accessing a wealth of information, from career training, applications for assistance, outreach services and more.  While books, provide an outlet, from training manuals and research, while offering an escape from the drudgery and despair of life consumed by the streets.

“This wing of the library is a lifeblood.  In addition to the use of computers, phones, manuals and fliers about area services, the library hosts lectures and forums on everything from dependency and health to job and career training to coping with homelessness, resources to help you out of poverty…films and documentaries, assistance with applications for outreach, computer and tech training.  It is a core foundational tool for building a bridge out of homelessness.  These tools empower you to rise above the scorn and fear and empower the journey forward.” Wilson gave Grant the tour. 

            “I never realized how vital something as basic as a computer could be,” Grant realized that most job applications are online and without email or a phone number you don’t stand a chance of receiving job consideration.

            “The phone is critical too when you are applying for jobs. I received $50 one time from the generosity of a stranger.  I desperately wanted a meal and warm bed.  I ended up buying a cell phone, not as a luxury, but a lifeline.  It allowed me to apply for jobs and be taken seriously as an employer.  Fortunately, many area non-profits offer free cell-phones for transients.”

            With Grant, the cellphone was always about a status symbol, a powerful tool for keeping his long list of business contacts, and being up to date with the latest and greatest technology.  Of course, it was an essential communication tool, but Grant’s motivation in every call, every email was greed and power.  The thought of a cellphone being a luxury to whether or not someone could get a job.  It revealed a layer of truth, he didn’t not perceive before. 

            “This job force website is the best, because these jobs are geared for low-income and residentially challenged people, as a transition to other jobs.” Wilson logged into one site. “For instance, Luke’s Mission on Denny Way needs a cook for their soup kitchen.  The salary is $300 per week and access to showers and a place to sleep.  The job is for two months, the idea that you use the savings towards getting into long term employment and permanent housing.”

            Grant knew that many of his employees at NWTC averaged similar wages, it seemed hard to eke out an existence on $900 a month.  Still, it was far more money than the $20 in his pocket, money that he had learned to cherish, not in greed, but with gratitude and joy.  $20 was the lifeline for food or a bus fare, things in his former life he had taken for granted.

            “I intend to find a job.”

            “You used to run a major company.  That experience should help in your job search…mind my asking what happened?”

            “I was a bad person, perhaps I still am…I let greed guide my principles.  People were disposable to me, and money was my god.” Grant struggled with words.  “When this experience first started, I cursed heaven and forsook God, because I couldn’t see the joy in a life based on poverty and lack of social standing.  My foundation back then was a house of cards, built on the backs of suffering.  I’m not sure I’m worthy of being a corporate leader again.  I’m selfish by nature.  Funny now, I’d be content to have that menial job I once bashed, working at the checkout counter.”

            “Sometimes you are forced to crash into reality, sore, broken and bruised to look up and see the sky and feel the ground heavy beneath your feet.  My point is that we can all live in castles built on clouds, glass houses, until our veneer is cracked, and we learn the truth we’ve been hiding from.  Your currency was money.  Money it itself isn’t a bad thing, it becomes a problem when you view it as more important than your soul, life itself, worshipping money instead of seeing it as a tool for good, a gift from God. Every dollar I receive, I view as a gift. I praise God with joy, joy for being able to use it to help buy food to feed myself or to give that dollar to a friend or stranger in need.  It is joy because it helps me on the journey, without being the destination.”

Grant wondered how long he would be living this life.  Would he ever return to the wealth and privilege he possessed?  Privilege, he always deemed it his innate right.  Now he understood the true definition and character of privilege, it was a joyous gift, or something earned.  A privilege calls you to a higher standard of acting for the good of others, by your authority.  It is not immunity by exception to use your privilege for greed and inhumane practices.

Grant’s definition of worth was based on wealth of money, power, greed, and things, not the individual inside.  He slowly could see that true worth and wealth have nothing to do with power or money.

Wilson showed Grant the ropes of the computer system, helping him set up an email address and how the search engine and resume builder worked.  Grant caught on quickly, his business savvy apparent. 

Grant searched the internet, hoping to find out anything about his new identity.  What about his parents and siblings?  For the first time in years, he recognized how much he missed them, desiring their loving, joyous company beyond all else.

Search results pulled up precious little, about this new ‘Grant Spaulding.’  A similar search on his parents, left him despondent.  According to an article in the Shuksan Enterprise, said that the Spaulding family had been forced to sell their land after a harsh winter killed 25% of their cattle and ruined their crop.  He couldn’t find a listing of their current address or phone number.

“I doubt they’ll know me.  I’m just a ghost, a burden…I’m sure I screwed up my relationship beyond repair with them in this life too.”

“Nothing is beyond hope, unless you forsake the Holy Spirit to death, redemption is a trying road, full of lessons and tests, but it is a road paved in grace, love, light and joy.” Saint Nicholas sat down at the computer beside Grant, this time the saint dressed in street clothes.

“If I call my family, will they know me, even accept me?  Or am I alone.”

“You are never alone when God is with you.  As for your parents, your history with them in this life is complicated, much the same as your old life, still they love you, and there would be rejoicing, joy to have you return to them.  Just as God rejoices in heaven for those that come to repent.”

“I have already hurt them beyond repair.  I need to straighten out these shadow spaces in my own soul before I return.  I’m not ready to face them.”

“I understand that sometimes it is better to wait, to act on things. To love the other as yourself, you must love yourself, and you still hate yourself.  I’m not talking selfish love, love of ego, but love of life, finding joy in life, even in adversity.  Sometimes the love we find in the grace of another, be it a friend like Wilson or your parents, can work through your shadows and offer a way forward.”

“How long am I going to be in this vortex?  Living life on the fringes, being in this forsaken state?  I know if I do get back, to that other life…I will be a better man.”

“I am not here to prophesy about your future, only to help guide you in truth as you receive the twelve gifts of Christmas.  The first gift is love, and in love you have found the gift of joy.  You are going to have to be patient in receiving, not because the gifts are granted freely, but you are still lost and on a journey home.  Don’t worry about getting back to the life you once were chained too but growing spiritually and in wisdom on this journey you now embark on.”

Before Grant could offer a rebuttal, argue his case, Nicholas had disappeared.

“We have about forty minutes until lunch,” Wilson noticed the time. “I thought we’d browse the book exchange cart.  It is where old paperbacks and magazines are free to take home.  The idea is to take, leave a book.  When I finish one, I drop it back off at the library.  This cart is a great asset for those who cannot get library cards because they lack a permanent address.”

“I’ll admit, except for executive and marketing guides, I haven’t really sat down and read a book in years.”

“I hated to read until I wound up on the street, suddenly I got what reading was about – a learning tool and a form of entertainment.  My only comfort on many days was the ability to delve into the magic of a book, lost in the storytelling, the characters…able to relate to their strife or escape into their hopes.  Some might call it fanciful, but it keeps me occupied, it fuels the spirit.  I’ve learned all sorts of things from books, including how to cook, about art and music, to technical skills like landscape design, which is essential to my job at the abbey,” Wilson spoke with joyous enthusiasm. “Lately I’ve been on a classics kick.  I even read Hugo’s Les Miserables and Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’ for the holidays.  I even read Pride and Prejudice.  I’m a sucker for romances, even the Harlequin ones.”

“I used to be a fantasy fan.” Grant recalled his middle school days, enthralled with Star Wars and reading books like Dune or The Lord of the Rings.

 “You and I are lucky we can read and write.  A lot of people I’ve met on the streets came from abusive situations and were forced to drop out of school.  They can barely write their own names.  Literacy is so important.  This gal, Jade, she couldn’t write, having been forced into trafficking by her drug dealing father.  She finally was saved from that life when she got arrested in a sting.  She couldn’t tell you the alphabet.  Cassie, she took her under her wing and taught her how to read and write.  Now Jade works part-time at this library, shelving books, and earned a scholarship for the community college.  Many are not so lucky.  I’m grateful for her success, it wasn’t easy.”

They meandered the book stacks the next twenty minutes, Wilson picking up a short story collection entitled ‘The Christmas Miracle.’  While Grant picked up C.S. Lewis’s ‘Mere Christianity.’ As they moved about the library, Grant felt the scorn of some, his large backpack and disheveled hair, a sign of his homeless state. 

He could only imagine the sneers those who reek of body odor and are unshaven might experience.  The library usually asks those patrons, respectfully, to go to a nearby shelter to receive a shower before returning.  What is more embarrassing than being in such low esteem that you cannot even maintain a basic degree of sanitation?  Grant remembered Teresa’s grace and mercy.  He suddenly felt joy for being clean. 

Hunger pangs setting in, they walked to a neighborhood soup kitchen,

The Wayside Fellowship.  They provide free lunches, seven days a week from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.  In the afternoon the fellowship hosts activities for up to 80 people, including educational lectures, board games and movies.  The fellowship is in a humble basement in the Friendship Community Center.  The ministry is an ecumenical collaboration of the Methodist Church and a neighboring synagogue.

The line for food wrapped around the entrance, up the narrow stairway.  In his former life, Grant would have impatiently pushed ahead, or rebuked the establishment for making him wait.  Now he waited, just content to have another meal.  Wilson chatted up with many of the people in line, some hadn’t showered in weeks, while others looked clean cut and middle class.  The face of poverty, he found could not be generalized or lumped into stereotypes.  It was a fabric of unique stories and individual identities, bound into a community facing hardship and adversity. 

Grant couldn’t help but observe the smiling faces, the warmth in the eyes of each person as they received the food.  Grant used to be the type who sent back half of his gourmet meals to the restaurant chef, with gripes and complaints.  Today he relished the food on his plate, a bowl of hearty pumpkin soup, a Jell-O salad, chicken breast and broccoli.  Glorified cafeteria food, somehow was more satisfying than the expensive five-start dinners he’d ordered in. 

“Grant, this is my man Big Leroy.  He is a blues musician that toured with all the greats, including Louis Armstrong, he even delved into rock.” Wilson introduced.  Big Leroy lives up to his name.  He weighs 300 pounds, looks like a football player, and has a wide, larger than life grin.

“I used to play the harmonica…back on the farm, music was a big part of my family’s entertainment.” Grant laughed, unsure why he was talking about this with a stranger. So often Grant hated those times, forsaking them as boring, funny now he only saw the joy in the simplicity of those years. 

“You’ll have to show me your skills after lunch.” Leroy pulled out a harmonica. “I’m a fat harmonica player.  I prefer guitar, blues guitar.  I play the Seattle Rainy Night Blues.  Blues isn’t just about sad songs on a desperate lonely street, it is emotion in motion, love against hate, joy out of despair, the layers that we bear, releasing it into music.  Music is the universal language. It is what lifts me up out of my shadows.”

Leroy went on to give his backstory.  He had toured with the greats, hit every club and opera house from here to Boston, from Boston to Europe, Europe to Asia.  Unfortunately, somewhere along the path, drugs got in the way.  He got fired for disorderly behavior and wound up in a mental hospital.  He lived on the street, using all his cash to get drugs, heroin mostly, until he finally got into a rehab program that worked.  Big Leroy still floats, transient with only limited resources, but he has the joy and focus not to be bound to the dependency of his past.  He uses his experiences, weaving stories in song to stir people to action and to understanding. 

In addition to Leroy, Grant met a wide cast of characters, from Miss. Lottie, a seventy-year-old who has a one-bedroom studio, she shares with five other seniors.  The group of ladies is genteel and kind, vibrant and vivacious.  They lived with joy, even though life had left them scrambling financially.  Then there was Rick, a former sailor who talked about his adventures on the high seas.  Grant doubted half of the stories Rick told but got lost in the adventure.

“This meal was delicious.  Thank you, Wilson, for cluing me into this gem.”

“You better get going, if you’re going to get into the Capitol Hill shelter.” Wilson paused. “I really am glad to be your friend Grant.  Don’t be a stranger.  Find me at the abbey or around Pioneer Square anytime you need a person to talk too.  I’m here.”

“I wish I could give you something, you really opened my eyes.”

“Keep them open…keep learning and keep loving with joy!”

Chapter 16:

            Grant struggled to read the bus map, trying to navigate the different lines and routes.  Grant preferred walking in Seattle or having his chauffeur drive him around.  He hadn’t taken public transportation in years.

            Even in this new state of self-awareness, Grant held a prejudice against public transportation.  It reminded him he was poor without a car and the chauffeur he was accustomed too.

            Waiting for the bus on 5th Avenue, he thought about Earl.  The seventy-year-old chauffeur had served him for four years, yet Grant never bothered to ask about Earl’s family, his interests, his past…Earl was as much as stranger to him as anyone, yet he spent hours in the car with Earl. 

            “My priorities really have been screwed up,” Grant fumed as the bus approached. 

            Stepping on board he paid the fare, other passengers annoyed as he struggled to lug his belongings onto the bus.  He managed to find a seat at the back.  Nervously clutching his things as the bus rumbled down the streets of Seattle.

            Capitol Hill is an eclectic neighborhood in the northern expanse of downtown.  It is a vibrant community of coffeehouses and theatres, book shops and nightlife.  The neighborhood is home to some of the wealthiest of Seattle, homes ranging in the multi-millions on well-manicured boulevards.  Yet there is a shadow side to this community, a stark, jarringly disparity of poverty and wealth.  Capitol Hill’s wealth is reflected also in the impoverished fringe classes of society.  Many homeless live in the corners of this district, hungry, alone, lost and battered.  The face of homelessness in Capitol Hill ranges from drug and dependency to those who are sober but suffered job loss or cannot afford housing in the city.

The neighborhood has fought to strike a balance in this complex issue.  Some want homeless ‘vagrants’ out of the neighborhood, because of the drug culture attached and mental illness that leads to public disturbance.  Others, like the Capitol Hill Shelter and Saint Jude’s Community Center address the issue head on, working to combat homeless by working with transients to gauge their individual situation and address their problems. 

By the time Grant arrived at the Capitol Hill Shelter, a line was already forming outside the building.  The center only has 220 beds, cots in a gym that are sanitized with bleach to ensure bedbugs are contained.  Seeing the dirt on the fellow transients, the aroma of body odor and booze, filling the air, Grant nearly got out of the line.  He ruminated on where else he could sleep. Could he find shelter in a park or just wander the streets until his appointment with Marissa in the morning. 

He struggled to come to terms with the dilemma, sleep inside warm from the cold, on a cot, where he could risk infection of a disease like hepatitis, lice, or scabies, all the while worrying about bed bugs and fearful that the person in the cot next to him wasn’t a mental case.

            He knew that it seemed judgmental, a bed and a warm place is a gift, but after speaking to fellow transients, he learned that shelters, are known for being high-risk places, with the countless turnover of low hygienic people, not to mention problems with drug dealers who work these places to feed poison to addicts, forcing them to remain in a cycle of dependency.  The bitter cold air of the near record low temperature, coupled with the steady pace of rain, forced Grant to accept the shelter bed, risking his hygiene to stay warm.

            It took an hour, standing the damp, nervously twiddling his thumbs, silently raging at this state of begging for a bed before he got vetted by the shelter intake associate.  As a first-time guest, Grant was asked to fill out forms, many about his health history such as lice, scabies, hepatitis, tuberculosis, and other communicable diseases known to plague shelters.  He was then provided with a list of instructions and a bed assignment. 

            Grant reluctantly put his tarp down on the bed, checking for any signs of bed bugs.  The bed was clean enough.  He knew the staff at the shelter go to extreme lengths to ensure the safety and sanitation of guests, working to show respect to those suffering from homelessness.  Sitting on the cot, clutching his belongings, he wrestled with fear and gratitude.  He couldn’t help being lost in the self-pity and humility of this state of rebuke.  He felt lowly and scarce, He had no permanence in the false security of this one-night stay.  What was going to happen to him?  What if he didn’t get in the transitional housing program?  What about the other souls lost around him?

            Fear was slowly replaced by a tepid joy.  Never a man of faith, he found his faith kindled.  Jesus was born in a stable, yet he was God.  What about the Hebrews, who wandered in the desert, they struggled and fought to trust God’s promise, losing faith, but in that loss, God continued to prove his faithfulness and provision, manna and water, a light to guide their way.  The stubborn ghost of Grant, wanted to snicker.  Faith in a place as sordid as this, lowly and unkempt – how could he trust.  Yet Grant did trust God.  He knew that this bed was provision.  Grant realized he lacked trust in his former life and it made him blind to love and joy.  Ironically it took this state of forsakenness to realize God was with him, God is trustworthy and for that he was joyful.

            For dinner, the shelter provided premade sandwiches, snack food, apples and grapes, cartons of milk and bottled water.  Grant saved the bag of chips, in case he got hungry later, while feasting on fruit.  It was a humble dinner, still it keep his stomach full. 

            Grant let his armor down enough to chat with the man on the cot beside him, Rocky.

            “I took a Greyhound up here from San Francisco, hoping to land a shipping job on the docks.  The contact didn’t work out, so I stay here at night and look for work during the day.  It is tough.  My parents are dead so I don’t have any family to stay with until I get a job.  This shelter is a blessing though.  I at least get a meal and a bed each night.  Sure we have some offenders in here, particularly those who have dependency issues…Doc Mac, he used to sleep on your bunk, but he got run over for sleeping in the road, flat on his face drunk.”

            “Is he okay?”

            “He’s in the hospital, broke half a dozen bones.  I visited him the other day.  I hope he can come out of this sober and able to rise above his past.  I used to bash the alcoholics, I still get frustrated by their selfish behavior, but I have come to realize they are in a battle.  It is a disease that many don’t survive.” Rocky’s voice drifted off…lost for a moment in his own tragic past. “It is our turn for the showers.”

            The shelter has twenty showers, each person is given a towel, soap, and shampoo, and allotted five minutes to rinse off.  Grant scrubbed intensely, joyful for the gift of another shower.  He felt icky after walking miles around town, lugging his belongings.  It gave him a fresh perspective on life.

            After cleaning up, Grant played cards with fellow transients for half an hour before he opened up the journal in his backpack.  On the second page, the word Joy in red ink.

            Joy breaks out of sorrow like a flame in the dark, it doesn’t obliterate the night, but lights the way to dawn.  Joy comes from a knowledge of the grace of God and the spirit that this life’s breath, fills your lungs and hope remains with every beating heart.  Joy is finding hope, lessons in adversity and it will yield peace even in the conflict of life, peace of spirit, the gift to come.

            “Joy isn’t based on circumstances, it goes beyond material,” Grant dwelled on the message as he fell into a contentious sleep, peace finally overcoming the fear of his surroundings.

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