Salmon and Snow Piles
I met Kevin and Serena soon after I started working at Dry Bones, in the Fall of 2014. By the time I met them, they’d both kicked addictions to drugs and they were good friends, sleeping in a group of 4-5, with our other friend David, south of the city. Both had stories of difficult childhoods, families they weren’t able to connect with, and who were unable to mirror them in some pretty important ways. Both Kevin and Serena are brilliant.
In the Winter of 2014-15, they were sleeping under snow piles, almost suffocating when large snow banks would fall on their makeshift tent in the middle of their bursts of rest. No matter what, that is devastating—no one should be sleeping outside in the middle of winter—but these two were working so hard to get on their feet, to create a safe culture of friends, free of substance abuse or abuse of any kind. This is not an easy task in such an unstable situation. They were good friends to each other and good friends to their whole group.
In February of 2015, that same winter, it was my 26th birthday. It was snowy, and it was cold. I had a meeting with Serena and Kevin. We were supposed to be working on housing and other things at the Dry Bones office. They showed up with grocery bags and told me that, in fact, we would not be meeting about housing today. Instead, they would be cooking me a meal with food they had purchased with their food stamps. The meal was gourmet by anyone’s standards: pasta tossed with cilantro and parsley, lemon, pepper, with a large, breaded piece of salmon resting on top, and a lemon wedge to squeeze on top. The kind of thing you pay lots of dollars for when you go out to eat. But, there it was, for me, on my birthday.
I was really floored. Gratuitous and abundant. That’s about all I can think of to describe the way they cared for me, and have continued to care for me. Even in the coldest of seasons. Often we hear narratives about people living in poverty, the way that they are “exploiting a system,” but I was watching, and have watched many times since, a group of people who are so hard working, perseverant, and generous, so generous. Honestly, I don’t even know how it’s possible; all my formal education has taught me that when your basic needs (shelter, food, clothing, et cetera) are not being met, you don’t have the space to think about other people and their needs. Something is special about the way these friends of mine love.
If you can cook gourmet meals and for your housed friends on their birthdays while you are kicking a habit and sleeping under snow piles, you can do anything. I’m excited to see what “anything” is for these two. What a gift they are to our community. And, what an example of people finding and sharing life in even the direst and most difficult of circumstances, finding light in the darkness.
An update on where they are now: Both Kevin and Serena are housed—about 300 yards from each other in the same housing complex! Kevin completed a year working at Purple Door Coffee and is now pursuing his passion for the natural world as he cultivates plants at a garden center and helps others create beautiful natural spaces. Serena has been working for Old Chicago for over a year now, and hopes to someday go back to school to study psychology to work with adopted kids. As with many of our friends who have made it off the streets—we are amazed by them!