By Rylee Forshee
“Ah. This Minnesota weather is just like all men. Deceitful.”
Alisha was real funny. She had a way of making your day better with just a five minute interaction. I laughed as I asked her how her day was going.
“Oh I’m blessed as can be. I can’t complain.”
I’m always taken back when guests say things like that. Although I’ve never been homeless, I seem to complain a lot. But the guests hardly ever complain. For them, their heartbeats seemed to be enough.
“I got breath in my lungs so it must be a good day,” they reply.
“God is good.”
“Just another day in paradise!”
I work as an advocacy intern at a homeless shelter in downtown Minneapolis. Usually I’m helping families find employment and affordable housing, contacting case managers, watching children while parents fill out paperwork, delivering meals or doing mundane intern tasks. Most days at the shelter are hard days.
Last year, when the Bethel volleyball team was on a losing streak, our coach reminded us about bad days. The days you lose loved ones or get the news of a diagnosis. So I try really hard not to say the words “bad day” unless I truly mean it. Instead, I’ll say “hard day” or “tough day,” because for me, the bad days are rare.
Every day, I watch single mothers call landlords for hours while their children demand attention. I see fathers work three jobs so they can someday give their children a bedroom of their own. I watch 8-year-olds help serve their siblings meals while their parents contact case managers. I see grandparents care for grandchildren and children care for grandparents.
I hear stories of sacrifice as parents chose to pay for their children’s food instead of their own medication. I see kids carry heavy emotions in their tiny hearts. I look into the grief-stricken eyes of a community that has had to watch another father, husband or son be killed by a police officer. I watch as individuals fight to survive in a system created for them to fail.
Those are my tough days. The days I witness injustice happening all around me while it seems the rest of the world chooses to look the other way. The days I sit with others on their bad days. The days I look into wet eyes and realize my past beliefs are causing tears.
It used to be so easy to tell a single mom to work harder. Or to say “my vote doesn’t even matter.” But on the tough days, I realize I so often replaced the word “privileged” with the word “blessed.” I realize I don’t have as many bad days because of the color of my skin. I realize the truth behind the phrase “life isn’t fair.”
And still, good days seep through the cracks and fill my soul. They look a lot like my idea of heaven. They are the days filled with kids with big laughs and curious minds. The days spent working alongside colleagues who look, think and act differently than me, working toward justice, hope and community. Celebrating a job interview with a guest I’ve worked with for weeks. The good days look like weepy eyes and feel like tight hugs as families move into their new apartments. On those days, we celebrate sobriety, celebrate triumph and celebrate each other.
On those days, we have breath in our lungs.
Illustration by Aimee Kuiper