Stop right there, I know. That is not how you spell sandwhiches. Is there a story? But of course. Let me explain,
I want to talk about a concept that has been in the back of my mind for a while now. It is something that I think has been bugging and awing me for the past for months. This thought is one that rarely gets much attention. However I believe it deserves all the credit in the world for how relationships between all individuals operate.
It is the concept of capacity.
Webster’s Dictionary defines Capacity: the maximum amount or number that can be contained or accommodated
Centered at the front of my attention, this concept of capacity has been on my mind for a while. While the definition seems simple, I think the word means so much more. I think it is a loaded word, pregnant with so much life and substance. I think it is a word the defines relationships. I think it is a word that contributes to who we are as individuals, citizens, friends, lovers, workers, humans and so much more.
The capacity at which a person can love.
The capacity at which a person can hate.
The capacity at which a person can forgive.
The capacity at which a person can forget.
The capacity at which a person can determine priority.
There is a capacity that each of us allows to feel from others and a capacity that we allow others to feel. And beyond relationships, I think capacity can apply to tangible things as well (This will come into play with the post’s title).
In my line of work, I deal with people at their rock bottom. For some being homeless is the lowest level of low that one can possibly be at. I see people in their most genuine form of survival and their capacity to survive. What I think blows my mind day after day is their capacity to act on what they feel will help them survive.
A few weeks ago the housing specialist came to my desk to let me know that a woman would be coming into the shelter to obtain homeless status to be eligible for a housing grant that we have access to. She asked if I could take care of her paperwork and assessment. I agreed and a few nights later her ID was dropped on my desk.
I had no idea of who this woman was or what her situation was. The grant we have access to is to help people who need financial assistance with moving into their own homes. Almost anyone can be eligible for it, but they need homeless status and to acquire that, they need to stay in the shelter at least one night.
With her ID on my desk, I prepared her assessment paperwork like I do for the dozens of new people entering the shelter every week who I assist in transitioning. I walked out front and saw her sitting on the front bench, shaking. I smiled and introduced myself. Her voice shook as she reached out her hand to introduce herself. I explained the intake procedure and we walked back to my office. We sat down and like I do with any client before beginning the technical stuff I just asked,
Why are you here?
Every day I go in I think nothing could ever shock me again, and every day I am proven wrong.
This was one story that stuck with me. It was her birthday back in 2011. Her husband woke her up with breakfast in bed. He kissed her good morning and said eat up. When she was done, they got dressed and he suggested they go on a birthday walk. She told me how in love they were. Their 3-year-old daughter was staying at her grandmother’s house so they could spend the day together. They went out walking. She stopped and stared at me. Her look went right through me and I felt the shift within her. Her eyes welled up. When they were walking he tripped. He stumbled and fell into the road. She said everything happened so fast that no one knew what happened. She didn’t. He didn’t. The driver of the car didn’t. She watched him get hit and just dropped.
Fast forward a year and a few months later. She had spent months in mental health recovery and while any specialist could tell you that isn’t nearly enough time, she came out of recovery for her daughter’s sake. She lost her home because they couldn’t afford it without his income. Her mother took them in. But in the time since he passed, she was finally able to secure a job. She just couldn’t afford that first lump payment for an apartment and heard about our financial assistance. When our housing specialist said she would need to stay in shelter one night to acquire homeless status, she became nervous. We sat in my office, very fragile. When we finished the paperwork, she said, what’s next? I told her now she left the office area and went into the shelter. The tears started coming and she said, oh of course. She dropped her bags and frantically collected them.
I said her name and she looked up, broken, all I asked was if she wanted to sit with me a little longer to prolong her inevitable stay in the shelter. She breathed out and said thank you. I’ve never seen someone so grateful just to stay sitting in an office. I said, tell me about your daughter. She went on and on. And I realized, despite all the trauma this poor woman had been through, she was putting herself through more, all for her daughter.
I couldn’t even comprehend the capacity of love she had for her daughter. Despite all the loss and pain, she wasn’t phased for a second when it came to the love and sacrifice she would go through for her daughter. I cried when I left work that night because of how tragically beautiful the story I heard was.
Now, while a person’s capacity to love can be immense and so powerful. Their capacity to hate can be just as immense and what’s more, take a much bigger toll on us.
Last week was the worst week it could have possibly been. I couldn’t have woken up last Monday morning possibly conceiving it would be a worse week. From the moment I walked into work to the moment I left Friday afternoon, just awful.
And during this whole awful week the concept of capacity stayed focused in my mind.
The capacity to throw 4 months of meticulous work, a college education and low-cost housing all out the window. The capacity to throw it all away.
The capacity to have someone risk their job for your health and then disregard them for your own selfish reasons. The capacity to use others.
The capacity to tell someone with anger and hate filling your bones that you wanted nothing more than to slice your wrists open and it was their fault. The capacity to be angry. The capacity to hate.
Such negative emotions. Fueled by what? No one knows. I don’t anyways. But being at the end of all the hate, selfishness, anger. It burnt me out.
People said one thing when I started this job.
Don’t get burned out.
But when I woke up Monday morning, I felt it. I didn’t want to go to work. But I did. I’m not just going to not show up. Fortunately, I had a 1-on-1 with my boss. We sat down and I told her everything. And like she does, she asked me my self-care areas.
I work out, I write, I pray.
Those get me through the day. And when I left I thought, I am going to work out tonight and maybe I should write about this too. But I didn’t think about prayer.
I went to the kitchen and asked the director if there were any lunches left. He said there were some bag lunches in the fridge. I grabbed one and walked back to my office. I sat down with a sense of exhaustion and defeat. But I opened my bag lunch and noticed a piece of paper inside. I reached in and pulled it out.
I almost teared up because of how happy it made me. I don’t know who put it in or where it came from. I could have grabbed any number of random bags. But that is the one I grabbed. And I grabbed it for a reason. Despite all the pain and sadness from the week before. I forgot about my own capacity. My capacity to trust in my faith. To trust in the fact that I am loved and watched over by someone so much greater than anyone.
The capacity to do anything is great. I believe capacity to love, hate, trust, forgive, forget, be humble, be great, be good, makes us who we are. And by the definition, is what separates us, making us unique and allows us stand up and stand apart from others.
Anyone has the ability to possess those qualities. But to possess the capacity to truly understand and demonstrate them, is something completely different.
Thank you for watching out over me.