Once upon a time when I was 15 years old my family was homeless. Yup, you read that right, homeless. I can remember it like it was yesterday because the whole experience obviously helped to shape who I am today. I was sitting in Biology class and suddenly my mother’s face was at the door and she was feverishly gesturing for me to come out into the hall. Mr. Mundy, my teacher saw what was happening and immediately excused me.
The moment I stepped outside my mom said “get your things out of your locker, your brother is already in the car and we’re moving.” Uh….how is that even possible? When I had left for school that morning everything was just fine. As we got to the car I remember seeing my brother in the back seat looking just as confused as I was, but neither of us really said much because of the obvious state of panic my mother was in. In a million years you could have never prepared either of us for the circus our lives were about to become.
As we pulled on to our street I can vividly remember seeing neighbors lined up as if they were getting ready to watch a parade. There were moving trucks and two police cars sitting in front of our house and my father handed us a box of garbage bags and said,” hurry up and just put everything in these.”
Still reeling from the confusion of what was happening we walked into the house to find what felt like people everywhere dumping out our drawers and taking our furniture out of the house. Without knowing what else to do I went up to my bedroom in tears and just started putting everything in the bags we were given. It was obviously incredibly confusing and even today, it’s not something we ever talk about much and I still don’t completely understand what happened.
What I do know for sure, what I do remember is that as all of our belongings were either being loaded onto trucks or piled on our front lawn not one of our neighbors came across the street to see if we were okay. Most of the men were working, but the women were gathered in clusters pointing and staring as if they were watching a movie. It was the most humiliating and horrible experience of my teen-age life.
Within a few hours our house was empty and the police put a big sticker on our door with some sort of box attached to the lock; we had just lost our home.
Evidently anything that we hadn’t put into the car was being taken to a storage locker…and our dog, well my mom drove off with her and we never saw that sweet dog again. Later that afternoon we checked into a hotel….we stayed there for a couple of days and then all four of us moved into another one room hotel for the next several weeks. Eventually my parents did get us into a house, but by then, all of our belongings were gone because my father had never paid the bill on the storage locker. To this day, I still don’t know what happened I only know that was just the beginning of what would prove to be an incredibly tumultuous and painful next couple of years, but that’s a whole other story.
What sticks in my head today almost twenty eight years later is not that we lost our home or our belongings…no, what has stayed with me is that not one single person standing on the street that day, or even the days that followed, ever did one thing to see if she could help. We had grown up playing with their children, had sleepovers together, carpooled, and gone to school together yet, when the time came to really be there, when they could have done something good, they chose to do nothing but gossip.
There are large chunks of that experience that have stayed with me. I know now that the challenge is not trying to forget the past, but instead it is finding a way to use it to my advantage and make peace with it. There are experiences we have in our lives that can damage us and we don’t even realize it until we are older and have the opportunity to look backwards. The way those women responded to what our family was going through left a stain on my heart. But it also opened my eyes and I truly believe that having been through that sort of humiliation has actually proven to be a valuable tool for me.
It All Comes Full Circle
Who would have ever believed that 25 years later I would be driving home and suddenly see a family on our block standing in front of their home with all of their belongings piled high on the front yard. The moment I saw it, I knew exactly what had happened and I instinctively just wanted to help. We didn’t know the people, but I did know that they had kids and it was about to become a very scary situation for them. So, in the midst of the chaos, when the school bus dropped the little one off that afternoon I was at my front door waiting to invite him in for cookies and cartoons while mom and dad sorted things out. It was the least I could do.
It was right around Christmas time and I can remember like it was yesterday that later that evening our neighbors had begun to gather and were whining about the fact that all of that JUNK on the lawn was taking away from how pretty the neighborhood had looked for the holidays. One man even suggested that perhaps he should just rent a dumpster and throw everything on the lawn into it. There was no shred of concern for the children or offer to help pack up their belongings. There was no sympathy for the family or outpouring of assistance there was only malice, contempt and glaring judgment. I was seeing the other side of what had happened to my family and it broke my heart all over again.
I can’t possibly know how I would have responded had we not gone through that very same experience. I like to believe that I would have reacted the exact same way and wanted to reach out to help…. But what mattered in that moment was that I had lived through this horrible experience as a teen-ager and when the time came for me to use my history as a gift or a curse, I chose to make it into something positive. I made the most of what I had been through and did what I could to stand up for those people and help, it was a conscious choice and one that I am proud to have made. It would have been just as easy for me to recall what had happened to my family and respond by doing nothing since nobody had helped us, but I remember having the distinct feeling that seeing another family lose their home right on my own block couldn’t possibly just be a coincidence and instead must be an opportunity for me to do something potentially good.
Undoubtedly we have all lived through our own share of crap….bad things have happened to us that we can either use as excuses for our behavior or we can allow it to empower us. The choice is ultimately yours, but I can tell you from personal experience that when you use your history for good you have the potential to change the life of somebody without even knowing it; you have the ability to make something a bit easier for the person in the midst of it. Your experiences, for better or worse have given you a gift, a unique insight and put you in a place where you might be able to see or understand things that most other people wouldn’t even begin to relate to. Perhaps at the time it was the worst experience of your life, but today you can decide to use it to help someone else and in the process you just might wind up healing yourself. Ironically enough, in some strange sort of way my being there on the day that family lost their home brought things full circle for me and for the first time in more than twenty seven years I was finally free of it and could let it go. I won’t ever forget what it felt like to have lost our home, but today it helps to know that in some amazing sort of way it gave me the unique ability to be able to help someone else in the moment they needed it most.
It may not be obvious right now, but the darkest moments of your history have the potential to bring someone else comfort and light. I hope that when the time is right you will choose to be the one who can make a positive difference.
Wishing you overflowing buckets of bliss!