by John Ellis, OAC intern
Each morning begins about the same at the OAC. We gather as a team to pray, celebrate joys, and express concerns. If nothing else, this morning ritual is a moment to breathe. The afternoons tend towards the unpredictable. Some days are a breeze, procedures feel light and fluid, and the air in the lobby is calm. Some are like gravel, with a cluster of frustrations and disappointments underfoot. The factors that determine which way the day goes are lost somewhere beyond my comprehension. As my first month at the OAC came to an end, I began to consider how we end our days. Shut down your computer and reflect as you let everyone know you’ll see them tomorrow. Volunteers and staff trickle out of the intake area as they finish seeing guests.
In the back intake office, there’s a piece of printer paper held to the wall by two pieces of faded masking tape with a message printed on it. It begins, “Do not depend on the hope of results.” It caught my eye as we released hands from a prayer circle during one early morning. At first, it struck me as pessimistic, the notion that the work I was to become a part of would appear worthless at times, that it might seem as if my efforts had no impact at all.
One afternoon, I signed a Georgia ID voucher for a guest who’d waited two months to receive their birth certificate. They beamed, let out the tip of a laugh as I handed them the voucher and wished them well on their way out. In moments like that, I feel that good kind of full. Shortly after though, I served a guest with an air of agitation I didn’t fully understand. When I couldn’t help them in the way they needed, I felt a hollow guilt in my stomach.
Weeks pass like this, considering the reactions of the people I serve and deeming the day as either good or bad once expressions of ease and frustration were tallied. 12:30 rolls around and I gather my coffee cup and backpack, and wave as I head for the door. Time and time again my eyes fall upon the message on the wall, “Do not depend on the hope of results.”
Over time, I began to consider the message in its entirety. The message on the wall goes on to say, “As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the righteousnesss, the truth of the work itself.” It concludes with a reminder that as you struggle less for an idea and more for the people you serve, it becomes more apparent that service is centered around personal relationships.
Slowly, like drops of water into a paper cup, I felt myself filling with a new sense of purpose in the way I carried out the day to day intake work. I began to look for fulfillment not from a guest’s thanks and appreciation but more from the simple fact that I’m allowed a few moments to listen and take action for the betterment of another.
With each passing day, I gather more of an understanding of what the quote means to me and what it reminds me of. Our services hels alleviate some of the stressors that people experiencing homelessness carry. If, when considering the weight of my efforts here, I think only of the results, discouragement is inevitable. If, instead, my focus shifts to the worth of the work itself, the knowledge that our efforts play a part in a varying sense of alleviation in the lives of those we serve, it seems more manageable and worthwhile.
Lately, the days go by quickly. I don’t count the number of guests I’ve served; instead let the value of the work itself resonate within me. Despite the potential for disappointment, whether or not I feel discouraged is irrelevant. Presence, attentiveness and action is relevant, though, and that’s where I’m choosing to ground myself right now. I’m grounded with the knowledge that I don’t know everything, but I’m trying. I’m grounded with the knowledge that our work might seem hopeless at times, but it’s not.
When 12:30 rolls around, I gather my coffee cup and look around the back room. Once more, I see the message on the back wall. Less of a warning now, more of a reminder. I wave again, and let everyone know that I’ll see them tomorrow.