Dan Sather, pastor of St. Paul UCC, Evansville, IL served as a UCC Partners in Service volunteer during his sabbatical (May 2010). "The Open Window" are some of his reflections.
An estimated 20,000 homeless men and women sleep on the streets at night in Atlanta, Georgia. Open Door Community, founded in 1981 in partnership with the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, the Open Door Community draws inspiration and guidance from the Catholic Worker Movement of Dorothy Day, Jubilee Partners of Comer, GA, and the Koinonia Community model of the 1960s. Resident volunteers live at Open Door Community and serve the homeless everyday and it was in this capacity that I wrote my reflection, entitled, The Open Window. Every morning, the homeless men and women would gather below my open window and would wait for the restrooms to be opened. In their waiting, conversations and stories were shared that I over-heard from our friends beneath my window, and it was within this context that I wrote, "The Open Window."
The Open Window
I awoke to the sound of voices early this morning. They were coming from the yard below, an early morning sanctuary for the night traveler, tired from his long and lonely walk. Amid the noise of the early morning traffic along the street outside my window, there are spirited conversations below; At times they are quiet and thoughtful and other times loud and rather boisterous for a sleeping neighborhood. The water from the hose is turned on and splashes down the dusty driveway. Some were brushing their teeth while others splashed the cool water on their faces to wash away the slumber from their tired, red eyes. Occasionally a waft of stale cigar smoke or used puff from cigarettes would drift through my open window, an opium for a hard life on the streets of Atlanta. The public bathrooms are two floors beneath me and the slam of the door reminds me that our friends with their loud and boisterous voices are human just like me and this morning they can find relief in the public bathrooms open to our friends along a street called Ponce de Leon Ave.
Our friends spend the night moving from one public place to another as police officers patrol the public places looking for anyone who is littering public space with their bodies or their belongings that may consist of a change of clothes in a plastic bag or a backpack with a few nibbles of food and the rest of their earthly belongings. They're trying to rest, but find no place to lay their head. The public bathrooms in Atlanta close at 7 p.m. each night and remain locked until 7 a.m. the next morning. Not only is there no quiet place to rest for the night, neither is there a private place to answer nature's call. Our homeless friends are used to being harassed, humiliated, belittled, and scorned for it happens every day. Will someone make room for our friends? Will someone offer a warm embrace, a kind word, or a sanctuary of peace in a hostile world? I wonder.
Our friends are not alone. Yes there are many on the streets of Atlanta, but that is not what I mean. I know a friend who was born in a shelter -- the only place open for a homeless couple. By the time he was 12 years old, he had been a child refugee on the run in a land he did not know. My friend reminds me that each night he looks for a place to lay his head, for he has no place to call his home. In addition, my friend is a despised criminal and there are many who want him killed. My friend is homeless too and seeks a sanctuary where he can brush his teeth and answer nature's call.
Through my open window, I hear a voice below me. The water is running down the dusty driveway and the door to the public bathroom has just slammed closed. The early morning air mixed with stale cigar smoke and used up cigarette smoke drifts through my window and awakens me from my slumber and I wonder could I be feeding Jesus today? I wonder.