Tuesday, November 5, 2013

T.J. Tennesseems REAL (Part 2): From Predators to Passed Participants

Surprise! I shaved my head. Here it is mid-shave.
Thanks, Jay! Sorry, mom!

My mom doesn't like the idea of me shaving my head. Oops.

Either shortly before or after Ghost Ranch, Ashley and I painted the inside of a house with her church, Trinity Presbyterian, with Habitat for Humanity. It was a blast! Ashley is a YAVA with a cooler backstory than most. She came FROM Belfast TO serve in Nashville. So she's straight-up Northern Irish. I met her during my year in Belfast. She currently lives here now and is studying at Vanderbilt. During the times I miss Belfast, she makes it a bit easier just by being around.

Ashley and I.
So many jokes to make. Pick one and tell a friend.

Okay, now we're definitely moving past Ghost Ranch. About 10 days after Ghost Ranch, the YAVITs came to Nashville. I do not remember what YAVIT stands for, but I can tell you what they do, which is bring awareness/recruitment of the YAV program to colleges and churches. This year's YAVIT line-up consisted of people I served with in Northern Ireland, which was awesome. I took advantage of this and showed them around Nashville (to the best of my abilities, being a newbie and all).

Courtney, Kathryn, Tricia and I at the Parthenon Replica

This year they trained in Ghost Ranch right after Re-Entry, went to Denver, came to Nashville, and then finished off somewhere else in Tennessee...Clarksville? It was good to hang with them again.

On South Broadway (or as the locals call it: SoBro).
Shortly after this, we were mugged by an Elvis impersonator.
We thought he would be such a sweet old man.

As far as October goes, my birthday and halloween came and went. A lot of awesome things happened during this time. I spent a lot of time with my roommates. We watched horror movies and went on a ghost tour.

Speaking of which, I felt a little spoiled after Edinburgh and Dublin's ghost tours, because the Nashville one seemed so tame compared to those two. Nashville ghosts are nice! They walk through walls, sit around, and sometimes sing at night. Some even throw parties. So if you want to be a scary ghost in your afterlife, don't die in Nashville and/or haunt there. You won't fit in. Me being real with you again. Me being real with you to death.

Anyway, my roommates even got me a gift certificate to my favorite coffee place! Very kind of them. And I learned that one of the comics from a website my friend and I used to run is a mini-viral sensation (meaning it's all over the web). Someone even turned it into a gif.

Happy Halloween!

I actually tried for Halloween this year. I didn't tie a towel around my neck, fashion it as a cape, and call myself "Super Beach Towel Man." Alasia and I wore legit costumes to our workplaces. She was a Ninja Turtle. I was a Jack-O-Lantern or The Great Pumpkin. Whichever. I bought an orange shirt, made a jack-o-lantern stencil, spray-painted it on with fabric-safe paint, wore a long-sleeved green shirt underneath it, and wore a green beanie on top for the stem.

I agreed to be something for Halloween because everyone at work was doing it, and I can see why. The participants at Room in the Inn really enjoyed the costumes. It made them laugh. My co-worker and fellow YAVA Jay dressed up as Waldo, and everyone kept yelling "I found you!" That day at Room in the Inn (or RITI) we had a Monster Mash party with candy and dancing, and I got way funky. Everyone had a good time. Oh! And I got to MC the Evil Laughing Contest. Bwahahaha!

Sarah, Jay, me, and Jesse at the Predators game.
They lost to Toronto. Go Red Wings!

Things at RITI are going well. I'm becoming more and more comfortable with it, and my role is becoming more and more defined. I have dayroom responsibilities, such as working the showers, doing the laundry, helping with the lunch line, and waking people up. I also work behind the desk, which means distributing mail, giving out bus passes, providing proof of homelessness letters, helping people with medication, traveler's aid, state ID's, birth certificates, etc. That stuff is getting easier too, but it still has its challenges, more so than working the dayroom.

Room in the Inn Staff

Room in the Inn has its challenges. Participants will swear and get angry at you all the time. Weird things will happen. Since I've been there, I've witnessed a couple ambulance calls, a participant attempting to take my sweatshirt, a man push over a stack of mail when I told him the mail line was closed, and a woman almost flash me in anger. But compared to most other workers' stories, mine are nothing.

One's romanticism about the homeless community, both good and bad, will be stripped once you spend some time at RITI. I've seen people walk around with a ton of bags, I've seen some wear attire I could never afford. I've seen people leave extremely ungrateful after I've bent over backwards for them, I've seen people extremely grateful for folding their pants. I've seen burn outs, addicts, and drifters. I've seen parents, professors, and scholars. This is all only in two months. I know I'll see more.

Especially since the actual RITI winter season has started. This is when we coordinate participants with a congregation to stay with for the night. I've been told several times that during December through February, I will have no where to sit and no time to chill. I will be busy, busy, busy. Certain homeless people will come from across the country to be a part of the RITI winter season.

All Souls Day @ RITI

My fellow "interns"--easier to collectively call us that then the two volunteers and one student--and I took part in organizing the the All Souls Day memorial service, which was very powerful for me. Before we started organizing it, Jeff and Quiana took us to two city cemeteries, each with a section reserved for people who couldn't afford a grave. One of the sections we went to was not well kept. Weeds grew by the headstones. The headstones had dirt and dead leaves all over the tops of them. The graves rested on uneven ground. There was a hole covered by tacky blue tarp, ready for the next person to eternally rest. When I looked up the hill into the other sections, there was a lot more trinkets placed upon the graves. Flowers, sentimental things, etc. The headstones had a lot more to say than just the name and years.

With all that said, I am grateful that the city of Nashville provided people who couldn't afford graves a place to rest. I'm not sure all cities do that. I'm really not sure. I hear a lot about how well Nashville treats the homeless, and I hear a lot about other cities that don't.

We then visited the other cemetery, which was heartbreaking. It had a bunch of infant graves. Infants that didn't even make it a year. That cemetery was more well-kept, but was right next to a busy road and a bunch of factories. It was sad.

At these places, Jeff and Quiana reminisced about former participants they had known as we stumbled upon their graves. Most of the stories were really funny, some were not. Either way, we honored them at the service.

Jeff, Quiana, Jordan, me, and Nick

The service featured scripture, poems, and a time of prayer. We had employees and participants in attendance. We lit a candle for every participant we were aware of that passed last year, and had their names on the wall. We then asked people to name others they new of. Almost everyone named a couple, especially the participants. We lit candles for them, and then lit a candle for the people who passed that no one knew of. We ended it with the Lord's Prayer, and it just seemed so deafening. I have no idea why. Obviously no one was shouting, but everyone just seemed to be on the same wavelength. I really dug it.

Soon the names of the deceased participants will be listed on the tree (pictured above), by one of the entrances to RITI. This tree offers a place for deceased participants to be honored and recognized, some of whom had never received such a simple privilege that I often take for granted. I've heard of confused families/friends that come to RITI to talk to the staff about a deceased participant who was once, or always was, a significant person in their lives. Whether they are angry, sad, hurt, or baffled at this death, I've been told that they often leave a little more at peace, knowing that their family member/friend at least passed with some form of a community around them. One that RITI was happy to bring them.

Beer and Hymn Night

I refuse to leave this two-part blog on a sad note, so I will say that Friday was a very good night. The people of Downtown Pres hosted a Beer and Hymn Night at a local bar in East Nashville. We drank, we sang, we worshipped, and I had a blast. If I could only say one awesome thing about Nashville--out of the million awesome things to say about it--I would say that from RITI to Downtown Presbyterian, you can always find a community that will take you in and love you as you are.

Even if you shave your head.

1 comment:

  1. You are a good blogger. But I agree with your mom about the head shaving.