As a part of the 300-level theology course curriculum at St. Thomas, students were required to complete 30 volunteer hours. Most of the young women in my class spent their hours snuggling babies in the campus daycare center. I had a baby of my own at home to snuggle, so I opted to use my hours where they might be better served. I knew about a house, actually three houses coupled together by warped hallways, just down Grand Avenue that needed help. Passing the mansions of Grand, you’d never know that this place was different, it looks just the same as the others. But inside live women who have nowhere else to turn. They’re desperate, hurt, and alone.
I put in my 30 hours at Women’s Advocates, a domestic abuse shelter for women and their kids, and then I put in another year of volunteer hours. My schedule became regular. I got to know the social workers and the kitchen staff. Two days a week from 1-4 I answered the phones. Emergency calls, placement calls from other shelters, homeless people needing beds, police officers; I answered them all. I had a script to follow. Very few of the calls went according to script. Women called from their closets. Women called from pay phones so their significant others wouldn’t find out. Kids called on behalf of their mothers. Angry husbands called looking for their wives and kids. Those were the most difficult phone calls.
Most of the women came with only the clothes on their backs. They came to my desk to get diapers, baby wipes, shampoo, razors. I chatted with them about their kids and felt guilty that I had a home to return to after my shift. There was one woman I won’t forget. She had five kids and wasn’t much older than my 22 years. She came into the office one afternoon, yanking one of her small twins by the arm, requested a diaper, and bluntly stated “my boyfriend won’t let me use birth control.”
It was chaos. Sometimes it was life and death. It put everything into perspective for me. Compared to most middle-class white women who are almost 30, I’ve been through a lot. Compared to the women in that shelter, I haven’t been through shit. My life is roses and carousels.
Now I find that I’m exceptionally drawn to women who have gone through some shit and come out with a better outlook. One such woman is Kate (@cleverkate on the tweets). We’ve endured similar shit and and work in the same industry, so I’ve always felt a connection to her. This morning I chuckled reading her Facebook post. Many people tell their Facebook friends about illnesses. Usually it’s something like, “GAH. I feel like death!” or “Somebody bring me some sooooooooooup.” but Kate says, “Was just smacked upside the head with a cold. What’s your favorite remedy?” She’s not negative or begging for “oh no! feel better soon” responses. She brings honesty and positivity. every. single. day.
And then there’s Nora. I’d like Nora to be my best friend, but this is the first time I’m telling her that (heyyyy Nora). Recently she wrote this piece. While the content is about positivity online, she has the most fascinating outlook on life. She’s very “let’s have some fucking fun while we’re running up this hill!” and it’s inspiring. She’s raising a baby with her husband who has undergone multiple surgeries for brain cancer (the last brain scans were clear, hooray!). Of all the people I would forgive for being negative, she tops the list. But she refuses to be bitter or cynical. She continues to charge up the hill with a smile, and even puts on lipstick to do it.
Life is shitty sometimes. The problem that you have right now feels bigger than any problem any other human has ever had. But it isn’t, and sometimes taking the time to put your problems into perspective can change your outlook.