Memories of Thanksgiving on the Street

I enjoyed this past Thanksgiving, probably more than I’ve enjoyed Thanksgiving in quite some time. I got to spend a nice, quiet holiday in my adopted hometown with friends. It was quiet, and I caught up on a lot of sleep and watched movies.

I wish I could say that nothing bothered me at all, but sadly something did. As I was leaving the office the day before, I noticed how cold and dark it was, and I couldn’t wait to get home. I have never been a fan of Daylight Savings Time: the idea of 4:30 p.m. looking more like midnight is well, ridiculous—not to mention young kids having to travel from school in the dark.

As I made my way through Harvard Square, the homeless people who hang around there waved at me (well, most of them). It wasn’t different than any other day, except it was Thanksgiving Eve. There is a sadness that hits me during this time of the year. Yes, I think about the homeless every day, but this Thanksgiving Eve was different.

I was on my way home to be warm and comfortable, and the next day I would spend with friends and family, eating, drinking, having fun. Meanwhile, many homeless people would be going to a meal in a shelter or a soup kitchen. Some won’t even do that and choose instead to forgo the holiday cheer and possibly stay wrapped up in their blankets hoping that the day will pass quickly. If they’re lucky, they’ll have a family member to spend the day with, but many don’t.

I remember all too well what it feels like to spend the holidays on the street. Yes, you can go to a shelter and eat pretty much all day—and I know many of you are saying “at least you ate”—but guess what? It’s not all about the food. It’s about family and friends, being with people who love you and you them. Know what you get in a shelter? Pity, all day.

First, the shelter staff dresses up the tables and makes everything all nice, and as the volunteers arrive, the shelter staff are suddenly all smiles and happy-go-lucky, introducing themselves to the shelter guests like they’re old, dear friends. Everyone laughs and eats, and then many volunteers sit with the guests and listen to their stories, asking them where they’re from and giving them that “oh, you poor thing” look.

Yes, I’m being a little sarcastic. After all, volunteers mean well, but at the end of the day, they go home, and there’s a reasonable chance you’ll never see them again (they probably won’t leave you their contact info, as most shelters won’t allow them to). They leave you alone, and though you may go to bed full, you’re still empty inside.

Those memories stay with me. They weren’t all that bad, but the halfway decent ones were few and far between. The sad ones stay with me, and I think about the people in the square and all those who are homeless this time of the year. You folks know me: I hate pity. But deep inside, I feel for those who are still out there in the dark.

James Shearer

James Shearer is a writer and co-founder of Spare Change News.

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