Day 2

Day 2 at Degage.

Day 2 of anything is tough. Day 1 has to its advantage an element of the unknown, which can bring energy and life to the thing. Day 2 you kind of know what's coming, and you start to entertain the little voices in your head saying, Really now: You think you're cut out for this?

But if I've learned anything from benchpressing, it's that you just have to show up and hope for the best. Nothing good--or bad--will happen if you don't. You've done your homework, and now all that's left is to show up for the test.

Last week, two women joined me for what we're calling "theatre games'; we had trouble convincing anyone else. I planned today's meeting with those women in mind, all the while knowing but not really thinking about the fact that nothing's for sure in a homeless shelter from week to week.

So when six men joined me today, I had a moment of Uh Oh.

I started thinking that maybe large grown homeless men might look at me funny when I ask them to, say, walk through pretend JELL-O.

So I did what anyone else would do in these situations--I brought out the toy boat, toy boat, toy boat. I shared some very large, very imaginary pieces of gum and we all chewed noisily.

And before you knew it, there was a husky, smiling African-American man in jeans and sneakers pirouetting across the floor.

I consider it my calling card that I try everything in my power to make sure the passengers are comfortable on their journey to the land of risks. In my experience, you can't dive right into the overly dramatic or serious stuff. You have to build trust among the group, and in the group's relationship to its facilitator. But I'm not talking party games with no purpose; everything I do is related in some way to the main goals. Even the toy boats. And I make sure that's communicated.

I've got an hour to do all of that.

As on last Monday, I showed up today with my list of what we'd do and in what order. And as on last Monday, at some point I threw it on the ground and listened to the muse.

I had originally hoped to do one of my favorite exercises (Human Sculptures), because it's a nice way to tackle serious issues without needing a therapist in the room. But at some point this morning I realized that the guys were having a ball doing the various things we were doing, and that in the midst of that fun, we were hitting some big topics.

Like when we were letting our lungs lead us around the room (DeShonte's suggestion: I had to run with it), I asked that everyone think of someone they admire and walk like that person. My ballet dancer became Barack Obama. Another man, one who appeared to have a brain injury because his sentences just didn't go together, became Batman, to his great delight. And Pat, who had told me before the meeting about his past life in Baltimore, became a businessman.

"It felt like how I used to feel," he said, a little mournfully.

We talked about how our posture gives clues to our psyche and other people. Not feeling secure today? Try walking like you actually are. That's acting, but it works in real life, too. Earl--tall, lanky Earl--felt cool and in control when he became a boxer, but he doesn't have to be a boxer to feel that way. In the context of the other exercises we did, this wasn't just psycho-gobbledy gook; it made some good, helpful sense.

I treasure moments like these. I fall a little in love with my participants at every workshop I lead. At Degage the moments are extra special because there's a good chance I won't see these same people again. I certainly hope to, but at the same time it would be great if they no longer needed the services of a homeless shelter.

I know it's not all roses. I was reminded of that while I was leaving the building and had to dodge a fight in the making, and step over a used condom.

But that doesn't take away from what happened in the moments before.

We played, we talked. We listened, we laughed.

On a rainy day in a homeless shelter, I swung an imaginary electric guitar around, and Barack Obama and a businessman picked up some other instruments and joined me. DeShonte took the vocals. Earl swayed to the beat in his head, and my man who has trouble forming a sentence danced on our pretend stage with pure joy.

Those who have ears to hear, listen to this beautiful music being made.


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