I’ve mentioned this before: the first time I brought food to Sister Jose Women’s Center, I was the recipient of a tour. They walked me through the kitchen, of course, and the food storeroom, but they showed me the racks of clothing, the dry goods, the toiletries and everything they do their best to keep on hand for the women they serve. They showed me their flower and vegetable gardens and the outdoor space where people could sit and eat a meal in peace- not under a bridge, not on a sidewalk with cars zooming by- and they showed me where the donations come in. They showed me the hallway with showers and restrooms, and the office, and more closets and storage. And they checked to see if it was okay, and they walked me, quietly, feeling uncomfortable as a man, an interloper in their space, through the sleeping quarters. There were a couple of dozen mattresses, a woman with her still white cat in a cage at the end of the bed she had for the day, and a dozen or more others in various states of wakefulness.
But the thing that fills my eyes with tears even as I write this two years later is the sleep I saw. I saw a woman sleeping the pure, deep, unworried sleep of someone who’s been exhausted for months, the sleep of someone who’s not slept with their guard down since they’ve been thrust into homelessness.
I struggled to keep my composure that day, and I did make it out of the room before I let waves of pain and gratitude wash over me and felt tears welling up in my eyes. I had never seen sleeping gratitude and the ultimate letting go that I witnessed that day, the feeling of unfamiliar safety and the kindness and compassion of complete strangers. That perfect sleep is like nothing I’d ever experienced before, and nothing I’ve experienced since- a person cocooned in the love of strangers, letting her clenched muscles slacken without a caution. To see someone wrapped in safety like that will stay with me for years, if not forever, and I feel like I’m as grateful as she was to have borne witness to her momentary good fortune.
I feel spoiled and illegitimate to compare any aspect of my life to what I saw those people experiencing, but as we struggle to find and keep enough staff to keep Feast operating, and as I lie awake for hours at a time each night panicking over what the restaurant will look like in the morning, I think of that sleep- the unfurrowed brow; the slow, even breathing; the blanket carelessly draped rather than held tight and close- and I imagine unclenching my jaw, and stretching my legs, and waking slowly as the sun tips itself in through the window.
I know we’re closer than we’ve been in two years to some semblance of normalcy, but even as the waves of virus ebb, and the waves of vitriol occasionally slip back off the shore of our daily consciousness, I’m holding that sleep in my head, waiting for the night to come where I drift to sleep without numbing myself with wine or television or three times the chocolate I intended to eat while I stare into space at the kitchen counter, where I sleep until the sun comes up, and a purring cat meanders next to my feet as I shuffle bleary-eyed into the other room with a scoop of kibble.
I know it’s not just me; I know it’s the guy from the linen company that I threatened to cut our order back to one chef’s coat a week until they can demonstrate that they’ll get our order right, and I know it’s the wine rep who has to tell us week after week for four months that they still can’t get in the liqueur that’s been out of stock since last December; I know it’s the line cook who can’t work more than a couple of shifts a week until she can get child care for her kids, and the truck driver who’s worked fourteen-hour days all week because someone else has called in sick every day and there’s no one else to cover the route.
I can’t guess what it’s like for the police officer, or the social worker, or the PA in the emergency room. I can’t fathom how it feels to be the refugee, uprooted from everything they know, and knowing nothing about what’s next. But I know that as close as it feels to being over for some of us, we’ve still got a way to go, some much more than others.
With this in mind, we head in April to Casa Alitas with a couple hundred meals in tow,
and the rest of the time, we make a modest attempt at normalcy. There’s a wine tasting today, which I could certainly use, even if I have to spit what I taste,
and if you’re joining us, here’s where to log in:
Topic: The many moods of Pinot
Time: Mar 26, 2022 02:00 PM Arizona
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 827 6290 4548
If you’re joining us tomorrow instead, or in addition, there are still tastings available,
and if you’re asleep right now, God bless you. You probably deserve it.