Helping Friends Who Lose Their Homes

Leave a comment

If you want to help someone who lost their home in a fire, here’s what I learned when it happened to me:

#1) DO NOT ASK THEM TO TELL YOU ABOUT IT. While that may seem like being friendly, it is hell incarnate for them. It forces the person who lost everything to re-tell the worst story of their life, over and over and over. Cannot emphasize this strongly enough. Was the very worst part of everything I went through: the pain caused by loving, well intending friends, whenever they asked me, “What happened?” Do NOT ask them to tell you about it. Do not talk about it. Focus on the blessing of everyone who survived. Focus on tomorrow, not yesterday.

#2) Do not ask them what they need. Just tell them you love them, give money, and call again one week later. When I had PTSD, the worst thing was not being able to think straight. Everyone asked what I needed, but I couldn’t answer. If I had answered, “$20 please,” to each person, that would have made a huge difference. But when you are going through it, you CANNOT THINK STRAIGHT. Do not ask. Just give love, money, and be patient. Follow up. Call them back. Don’t expect they will be thinking clearly enough to ask for what they need. Do not expect them to call or say normal things like Thank You.

#3) Give money. Any amount helps. Do not feel like you need to fix it, and that your gift is not significant enough. Everything helps. When you’ve lost all you owned, you will need to buy everything again. Every donation helps. And when you give, do not expect a Thank You. Give them your understanding as well as cash. No strings attached. Just give.

#4) Never ever say anything like, “I totally understand what you’re going through.” Do not tell stories of other people who lost everything. It does not help. Anything that makes them think about the problem is painful. If they say strange things, be patient. If they do not call you back, be patient. Your brain is functioning just fine, theirs is not. Do not attempt to relate by saying you understand. Be there for them. Help them make one or two decisions about things they need to do today. But do not try to say you know what they are experiencing, because you do not, and your words may trigger more of the pain you are trying to alleviate.

#5) Follow up. Do not wait for them to call you. They may be fluctuating between feeling normal and being out of their mind. Have zero expectations. Love them. Be patient. Wait a week, or a month, and then call again. Never ask them to tell you the story. Just show them you care, and listen for what is hurting the worst. Then call again a month later. The process takes years. Most media and social butterflies will forget about it within a few months, but for them, the hell has just gotten started. Follow up. And then follow up again, later. And then follow up again. Mark your calendar. Be the friend who did not forget.

My most painful memories from my home burning down are of dearly beloved friends who did things that hurt me the worst. And my favorite memories are of the people who gave unconditionally, were patient, and showed their love by not having expectations.

If you know someone who just lost their home, give, be patient, be sensitive with your words, and follow up.

Christmas Confession

Leave a comment

                                                                                                                                                                          December 29, 2016

I’m ashamed to admit, I didn’t get into the Christmas spirit this year. My typical enthusiasm was nonexistent. Didn’t care about gifts, wasn’t looking forward to any of it, no plans to do anything special. Recent personal and political issues have left me feeling psychically beaten, heart and mind smashed by the weight of the issues. In the weeks leading up to Christmas I felt too wrung out to care about the season of giving, I just wanted it to be over.

As the occasion got closer, Sybille and I decided to spend the 24th and 25th with my aunt Trudy and uncle John. I forced myself to put together a list of gifts for everyone, and acquire them. But everything felt emotionally hollow.

Felt a little better when I started baking. As I made cake and jam and cookies, and thought about who might enjoy them, a glimmer of seasonal mirth flickered inside. The simplicity of hand made kindness felt better than anything I’d found in the stores. But I couldn’t write any cards. The words just wouldn’t come. And every hour and dollar I spent shopping felt like a complete waste.

Then, six days before Christmas, it happened. Aunt Trudy said she was going to spend the afternoon of Christmas Eve giving out pizzas to homeless people. Did Sybille and I want to join her? As soon as the thought formed in my mind, my heart woke up. The idea of giving help to people who genuinely needed it sounded better than every single Christmas sale and advertisement combined. “Yes. We’d love to go with you.” As soon as the decision was made, I felt better. And the more I thought about it, the better I felt.

We loaded two boxes of oranges, three cases of water bottles, and twenty freshly baked pizzas into the car. I didn’t know where we were going or what to expect, and as we drove into the back lots of the industrial area of town, wasn’t entirely sure about the safety of what we intended either. It was freezing cold. Fresh snow was on all the surrounding hills, and a bitterly cold wind howled through town, blasting around buildings, scouring the parking lots, cutting through however many layers of clothing you had on. The places Trudy usually saw groups of homeless people gathered were deserted. We’d have to give out the food one person at a time. My internal warning signals were pinging.

But as soon as we offered pizzas to the first guys we saw, their appreciation shone through all the difficulties. They were hunkered down in a pile of cardboard boxes in the lee of a parked truck trailer, and were damned glad to receive warm food. Even happier when offered a couple of bed liners and blankets. They thanked us several times.

We drove to another parking lot. Again we offered food to people we found tucked against a windbreak, huddled in piles of rags. Again we received smiles and thanks in return. The magic was happening.

The third stop was a guy so tightly huddled into his pile of shelter I never even saw him, just the hand that reached out when Trudy and Sybille offed the pizza and their smiles as he took it.

Fourth stop was for five men and women gathered on a concrete porch. They were so grateful it brought tears to my eyes. One man extended his arms out to each side and enthusiastically proclaimed, “God’s mercy works in amazing ways!” That group thanked us repeatedly, waddling slightly from the thickness of the multiple pars of pants they each were wearing to try to endure the cold.

A couple of the individuals said nothing, just received the food, and looked down at it. But they waved as we drove away.

The last people we donated to were a group of six young adults. They were standing out in front of a closed store, hiding from the worst of the wind. As soon as we offered food, they began to smile and thank us, and as we passed out pizzas, water, and oranges, they told us about their day. We heard how two of them had spent the previous night in a hospital, recovering from hypothermia. We heard how they were released from the hospital wearing only the paper thin scrubs the hospital had given them, and the only reason they had clothing now was because of a church group who had given them clothing earlier that day. We noticed how one of the men, who looked about twenty-five years old, didn’t have any front teeth. We noticed how one man was more concerned about food for his dog than for himself. And in between everything they said to us were numerous thanks. We gave them sweaters and other clothing too. When the last pizzas had been given out, we drove over to a Ninety-Nine Cent store, bought colorful beanies for each of them, and drove back to give them the hats.

We gave away twenty pizzas, one at a time, without an instant of rudeness or a speck of danger. Every single recipient was genuinely grateful, and rarely have I ever felt the words, “Merry Christmas” more deeply. To be able to put the gifts right in their hands and see their smiles, face to face, were the most beautiful moments of brotherly love I’ve experienced in a long time.

As the holiday season concludes, I have many beautiful memories and a pile of thoughtfully chosen gifts. I feel incredibly blessed all the people I care about most have everything they need. I love Sybille, my family, and my close friends more than anything in the world. But my most cherished moments from this Christmas season were the time we spent giving to the homeless people in Victorville. We didn’t know them, didn’t even know their names. But it didn’t matter, their smiles and shining eyes said it all.

Happy holidays everyone. May we all continue to love and share and care for one another, no matter what happens in Washington. Let’s sustain the love of the holiday season throughout the entire year. Distorted, over sensationalized news is not the truth. The truth, as we all know, is, most people are wonderful. The freaks are on the news because they are the exception. Stay strong, hearts open, eyes forward. We’re all in this together.




Message for Fellow Artists

Leave a comment

RISE UP! Never fear the unknown. Never doubt your talents and inspirations. Never, ever forget ART IS CRUCIALLY IMPORTANT for all of our happiness and well being. RISE UP. Do not let go of your dreams. Never stop being an artist. RISE UP. Don’t worry about the end result. Make art because you know it is good and right, and because you are compelled to make it. RISE UP because there are millions of earthlings who do not have your gifts, your creativity, your insight, the intensity of your feelings, and they cherish the art we make; appreciate the effort and years we spend learning our craft; adore our unique creations; find strength and solace in our ability to express the divine in all of it’s forms. RISE UP and BE what you were meant to be. Never hold back, never give up, never give in. RISE UP. And know that I thank you and love you for who you are, and all that you do.