I was recently asked to help the Bethesda Center for the Homeless with a dancing fundraiser called Take the Lead. This is a large dancing event that pairs about 10 community members with professional dancers for a live show that’s much like dancing with the stars. As one of the dancers, I have been asked to market the event and gather votes, each of which costs 10 dollars. Incidentally, that’s also the amount needed to provide support for one person to use the Bethesda Center’s resources for 24 hours. Each team has been hard at work, putting in hours of dance practice and active community marketing. With my dancing ability, or lack thereof, I’ve also been spending some time praying that I will not mess up the process, either by looking silly or failing to raise enough money. I’d say the pressure’s on, if you know what I mean.

One of the most challenging aspects of this process has been getting the word out in a way that feels right. I have thought about all kinds of marketing ideas, topics to write about, and ways to promote my dancing and personal fundraising page. While I have followed through on some, I’ve also been uneasy about drawing attention to myself. This isn’t about me. Because guess what? I’m not homeless.

The Pain Connection
I’ve been thinking through how Take The Lead has been impacting me, and looking for a way to connect with the community of the homeless beyond dancing and marketing. Sure I’ve served food at a few shelters, but I am confident in saying that I’m not even close to understanding what being homeless feels like. But pain: Now that’s something I know a thing or two about. And I believe that human pain is consistent for us all. As J.K. Rowling puts it: “To hurt is as human as to breathe.”

We all experience pain physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. For some, the devastation is so great that it costs one’s life; for those more fortunate, there is recovery. For others, pain is always present and will be until they step off this world. That’s where I connect to the cause. While never having been physically homeless, my reality of fear, pain, and suffering is the “alikeness” I share.

A Story About a Broken Tree
Have you ever walked by a tree that has been split or torn by a storm? Have you ever imagined what it was like for the tree to be battered like that?  Maybe it was midnight on a hot summer night, the tree had a good drink of water through a line of thunderstorms. Then, out of nowhere, a massive gust of wind came through and devastated the tree, tearing its branches and leaves out in giant fistfuls. It was left with mangled debris, almost–but not completely–uprooted.

The next day, the cleanup starts. The gardener, who is in love with that tree, having seen its beauty before the storm, is sad. But he believes that the tree can come back to full life one day, if he tends to it long enough. The faithful gardener believes that despite all the damage a storm can cause, some trees will survive. He has seen it happen before.

This tree story is also a story about homelessness. It’s about the realization that all human life in any form is beautiful and valuable. It’s about the awareness that we are all like the tree, beautiful one day and in shambles another, with a Gardener who believes in our beauty and ability to survive!  That’s what this work to care for the homeless is about for me. It’s a belief in beauty–past, present and future.

What about you? What’s your part in this forest, in our community?  Are you the tree, or are you the gardener? Are you both?  Can you imagine the beauty–past present and future?

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