My heart still belongs to Helping Up Mission, especially at this time of year.
This post originally appeared on Valentine’s Day, 2012.
I’m not trained, per say, by profession or schooling to weigh morality or administer counsel. My girlfriends would say I have a knack for capturing a cool snapshot, throwing together a tasty meal out of “catch as catch can,” and drawing the life story of just about anyone who will share. I have a keen eye for color and the ability to get a task completed quickly and efficiently. I love clean lines and order. That gives me peace.
All this to say I’ve never earned a doctorate, run a marathon or written a book. I’m actually not an expert in any field, and to write about why my favorite place to be is HUM, is, well, a bit daunting. I can’t even really talk about the economy, politics or the scientific case for the universe, and when my professor husband uses phrases like “integrating learning community pedagogy,” well, I have to admit I find myself hungry for a bowl of Cherry Garcia. My life is motherhood. I have a large family, and I’ve been one of those hem them in and protect their souls kinda moms. I’m a photographer. So my work is to draw people out and capture the real. I don’t confuse the two, for the second is only an extension of the first.
My favorite place to be these days is at HUM, an addiction rehabilitation program for 400+ men in the heart of my Baltimore. I’m not exactly sure how I got there. For years, I had heard about HUM but argued that it was too far, and that our small town, an hour northwest of the city had it’s own addicts. And you don’t get to pick your addicts or your family. Why travel an hour to fill a need that existed right out my back door? And, honestly, the thought of serving 400 men, barely hanging on by a thread was actually not that appealing to me, for after feeding my own family of ten, three squares, I’m not looking for more kitchen time.
I made the leap on behalf of a Great Books course I was tutoring. They were seniors, and we were all bored. So, I got permission to take the lot of them to HUM . . . just on a whim. I was doing this for their own good. We started with our facility tour, and I knew I was in trouble when I entered the library. It was the guy behind the library desk. He was the guy that I had seen in the comfy chairs at Barnes and Noble, sipping a latte and reading Atlas Shrugged. Young, bright, stars in his eyes. It happened over and over again that day. What I thought I would see was not what I saw. These were not strung out, lazy indigents . . . and I am ashamed to write that phrase, but that was my expectation. I served dessert at lunch that first day . . . and quickly realized that these guys were just like me. One decision from destruction, but they were living transparent lives . . . living their beautiful mess out loud. From the get go, I realized that HUM gives me more than she takes. She gives me hope. She gives me escape from my own sludge . . . if just for two hours, twice a week. And yes, she gives my heartbreak, for I’ve oft come to look forward to seeing a friend only to find he’s been beckoned back to his mistress.
I haven’t completely figured out why I wake up happy to drive an hour to fill up the cups with ice water. Maybe it’s where I see Jesus these days most clearly. Maybe it’s human connection. Maybe it’s completely self serving. But a couple times every week, we pile into the Suburban, roll down the windows, turn up the music and barrel on down to the city where I leave with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. Every time.