Once in a while things cause me to reflect, and I have to say that getting involved with the local cold weather homeless shelter has led to that. I wish more people would take a night of shelter duty.
Most people don’t realize it, but my brain is broken. I say that jokingly, but it's true – for whatever reason my brain doesn’t make the proper amount of a chemical that regulates sleep cycles. I have a sleep disorder – narcolepsy. People think of this as just a disorder where you sometimes fall asleep at inappropriate times. That’s part of it, but it’s way more complicated than that. It affects a person both day and night. You never feel rested, and without the appropriate chemicals the brain will go into REM sleep whenever it pleases – and going into dream sleep when you are walking down the street can make for serious challenges. I’ve been dealing with it for upwards of 40 years now – I’m good at adapting to it and covering for it, but I also have to make certain allowances for it.
As a consequence, I initially didn’t volunteer for the homeless shelter. I take medications at night to help control my sleep cycles. Without it, my nights tend to be lost in dreams and nightmares, exhausting struggles caused by REM sleep that start as soon as I lay down, followed by days so exhausting that I sometimes feel ill. People think I have a lot of energy – that’s only because I’ve had to push myself so hard for so long to stay ahead of this. I have a pattern – I’m in and out of things. I participate heavily and then I have to back off – I’ve burned out, run out of steam. As the Brits say, I have to have a little lie down. Since I’m also strongly affected by the loss of daylight, that little lie down tends to last at least January and February, sometimes longer. There are times where being a bear in hibernation is a good analogy.
I didn’t volunteer for the shelter initially because I thought the sleep disorder left me ineligible for night duty, but the calls for volunteers that were coming out were so desperate that I emailed the coordinator, explained my situation and told her to that if we could do it within the parameters of my enforced nightly medication and sleep schedules I would do it. Her response was “Yay! Take your meds, sleep, we just need a female warm body for liability reasons because men aren't allowed to go into the women's section.”
So I’ve spent three Saturday nights at the shelter recently. No, it isn’t easy to work all day and then pack up and go spend the night on a sofa in a stuffy corridor. But I’ve come to realize that the hardest part of the job is that at 6:30 am I have to make sure that exhausted people who have spent the night on cots get up and go out to a day where they have nothing ahead of them except to get through 12 hours until they can come back to that cot. That’s really much harder than missing a night in my bed.
By 7:30 last Sunday morning I was on my way home after a night on an inflatable mattress. I made my morning cup of coffee – I only have one cup each day but the beans are freshly roasted by a friend (Black Dog Coffee) who drops my order on my porch. My three spoiled indoor cats had missed me and draped themselves all over me, purring as I stretched out on the sofa with book and coffee. As usual, I lay down so that I could look out the living room windows to my bird feeders and watch the cardinals, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, blue birds, and goldfinches that are the regular visitors. The stray cat that I have allowed myself to be suckered by came by for his breakfast –I’m feeding four cats now. He’s going to be really unhappy when I trap him for neutering and testing for FIV in a couple weeks. A friend called and we chatted a while – she just bought her retirement home on Lake Gaston in North Carolina and is, understandably, incredibly excited. Then I went outside and played in the dirt for several hours. In the last couple weeks, thanks to both the weather and an electrical fire that shut down our office building and took our servers offline, I have power washed the front porch and put two coats of stain on it, power washed the porch furniture and clear-coated it, dug up the new hummingbird/butterfly beds and planted them, moved various different flowers from where they were unhappy to where I hope they will do better and patched and re-seeded a problem part of the lawn. And grumbled because I don’t seem able to adopt healthy cats - Perry’s bill on Wednesday was $890 to figure out what he DOESN’T have that could possibly be causing him to pee everywhere, Blu has allergies that impair his breathing, causing him to swallow air and constantly throw up, and the early warmth has caused Blackberry serious hairball problems, which also means random cat barf. My carpet was worn out to begin with – now it’s a disaster.
What does this all mean? That those people at the shelter, unlike me, don’t get to go home in the morning. My home can seem overwhelming – in reality I bought too much house and too much property for a single aging woman to handle alone easily. But I have a home. I have my own bed and my own sofa and my own porch. I turned my cable TV off a couple years ago – once the nice weather starts I stop watching TV – but I still have a TV that I can run Netflix or a DVD through on a rainy night. I have my own coffee pot and refrigerator and washer and dryer and I don’t have to put all of my belongings in a bag for the day. I can shower and throw my dirty clothes on the floor and crawl into my bed when I want to. My yard is mine, and although I might cuss the deer for eating my plants the fact that the does leave their new fawns behind my house in the Spring is still enchanting. I grumbled about the raccoon leaving his muddy prints all over my freshly stained porch and was delighted when I saw my little lizard, a pretty little skink, peering around the corner of the steps at me on Friday - he's grown considerably since last year. And neighbors? Well, strangers on my property trigger the “Kenny alarm” and I’ll and receive a phone call asking what’s going on. If my daughter doesn’t hear from me each day a neighbor will get a phone call and I’ll be getting a visit from them to make sure I’m OK – and they have a key to get in the house if I don’t respond. It goes both ways, of course – I know how to get into houses to take care of various pets in an emergency and am happy and feel privileged to do so.
This is rambling, I know. But the core of it is – how much more we realize what blessings we have when we are involved with those who don’t have. And I really wish more people would accept the gift of that personal involvement. It can remind you to thank God for what we tend to take for granted.