During September 22-25 2016, six individuals participated in a Street Retreat in New York City, a homelessness plunge based on Not-Knowing, Bearing Witness and Taking Action. Below is an email exchange that followed the retreat, concerning a person they met on the streets.
(September 28 2016)
A vignette on our street retreat,
As some of you know I went on a street retreat in NYC from Thursday to Sunday last week. In the course of being homeless we befriended a 47 year old woman who had been living on the street for 25 years now and is still alive. Fatima acted as our street coordinator; making sure we got our food at the Bowery Mission before others so we could get to the park for our closing ceremony on Sunday, got us coffee in the morning, showed us where to sleep in a big park in the village. She had amazing energy; you could see how alive she was from the way she laughed and cried to the way she offered herself to us; wanting to be seen and heard. She didn’t have teeth and admitted to taking crack and alcohol every day because she didn’t know how to cope with her life. We were sitting in our circle meditating and speaking from the heart and with a tear streaked face she looked into our eyes and said, “don’t forget me don’t forget Fatima”;. It reminded me of these parts of me that cry, are confused, feel messy and all our parts that cry “don’t forget me”.
(September 28 2016)
As you know we had a quick discussion & agreed we’d like to do something for Fatima for her upcoming birthday. I told her I would meet her for lunch again this Saturday at 12:30 at the meatloaf place; no guarantee she’ll be there but she did say she’s there every Saturday.
I am going to bring a $100 Kmart gift card for her & say it’s from all of us; if however she doesn’t show I will just keep it for myself. Either way I will report what happens, & if she does show up I’ll give you all my address for any contribution you’d like to make.
(September 30 2016)
Dear Street Sangha,
Hard to believe that 7 days ago we were on the streets – not knowing what a night we were to experience.
The donation to Fatima of $100 will come from the mala donations. So I will reimburse Scott.
I don’t recommend any more $ at this time, considering her situation and multiple addictions.
Let’s please keep her safe.
Wherever you are – be here!
And deeply enjoy and appreciate this miraculous life.
(October 2 2016)
I connected with Fatima yesterday. When I walked into the soup kitchen, looking & presenting as I usually do, I was struck by the ease in which I could walk right past the line outside to explain to the manager who I was and why I was there. After a short wait among some of the familiar faces I spotted Fatima, but when I called out to her she didn’t recognize me. When I explained I was Scott from the retreat her eyes lit up and she ran up & hugged me, in tears saying “You came!”
As we were saying hello she said she had been robbed of her phone the night before sleeping in the same park we had, yet she was mostly happy as she said she had just come from being able to take a shower somewhere. When I gave her her birthday gift card from all of us she once again shouted out in joy loud enough for the whole place to hear and started crying all over again. I asked if she’d like to go shopping right then and also grab a birthday lunch, and away we went.
We walked over to Kmart by Astor Place; I asked about her cousin John & was told she had just seen him at some park he had spent the night at. She also mentioned that John was in a Methadone treatment program; John hadn’t mentioned that last week. I had personally gone to an AA meeting at the 12 Street Workshop and picked up a Beginner’s package for John; Fatima said she’d get it to him. Fatima also said she’d be interested in going to a meeting herself and originally said she’d go at 2:30, but later said she was too tired. So in regards to recovery we’ve at least planted the seed with both of them, which is the best (and all) we can do.
When we walked into Kmart it was obvious that Fatima was enjoying the activity of shopping itself, and being able to ask salespeople the kind of things we ask all day, every day. With the $100 we bought a nice winter coat that she’s wearing in one of the pictures, some warm leggings, a hooded sweatshirt, socks and underwear.
I took her to a BBQ place for her birthday lunch, & when asked what she’d like to drink she asked me if it was OK if she got a “large” Sprite. When her large Sprite came she became overjoyed again and I took picture #2.
Her plate of BBQ chicken & ribs came that was bigger than she is, and we had a happy but bittersweet time together as it was such a wondrous occasion for her. While our conversation was generally a happy one where she asked me a lot about my life and kids, she did further share that her mother had died when she was ten and she spent the rest of her childhood years floating through the foster care system. She also shared that her father was absent as most heroin addict parents are, and that he later died of Aids from dirty needles when she was 22.
When we finished eating Fatima said she was sleepy & was going over to a mission on Lafayette to sleep some. We had packed up her remaining lunch she couldn’t finish, took her picture with her new warm coat, & parted ways.
As we left I was reminded of the feeling I had when the retreat ended last week, in that I felt like I wanted to take everyone we encountered back to “my world” with me. What I had done took very little effort, but the profound effect it had reminded me that I really don’t have any problems. and while Sentient Beings are numberless, I still vow to save them…
In Deep Gassho,