And Then There’s Family Promise
No less a literary titan than James Joyce once described Ernest Hemingway’s short story, A Clean, Well Lighted Place, as ” … masterly. Indeed, it is one of the best short stories ever written…”
And there was a time when, as a youth who aspired to write the mythic “great American novel”, I would have unquestioningly agreed; I was a big fan of anything by Hemingway. However, I’m now, at best, ambivalent about the author. Like many of his stories, booze and “nada” are central to A Well Lighted Place. Which, I suppose, isn’t surprising given the horrors that Hemingway and the 40 million other members of his “Lost Generation” endured in the trenches of World War I.
But I was reminded of the story last Saturday as I was waited in a clean, well lighted place, i.e., my church, to shuttle a van full of homeless Denverites to their next stop in the Family Promise program. And, it is to be hoped, their next stop on a road that will eventually lead them out of homelessness and to a place they can call home.
What they do. And how they do it.
Started in 1982 from a businesswoman’s chance encounter with a homeless woman, Family Promise has grown into a national organization engaging 180,000 individual volunteers and 6,000 faith congregations.
On several occasions during the year, our church hosts families referred to us by the organization. The accommodations are anything but fancy, but they’re clean and well lighted and safe. Teams of volunteers feed our guests. The bathrooms include showers.
During the day, families stay at a downtown Denver location where long term planning for employment, housing and financial stability are the focus. It was my job, this time, to drive the van to that location. On previous occasions my wife and I have helped provide dinner.
You can lead a horse . . .
I’ve lived in Denver my entire life. And there’s little doubt that I’ve been blessed. So, I’m certainly not as well acquainted with the tougher side of life with which others are familiar.
But sheltered existence or not, no-one who drives around town can miss the countless beggars and panhandlers that are seemingly a permanent fixture on so many street corners. This is particularly noticeable to me because I remember seeing few, if any, of these people growing up here.
I hope that Family Promise can make a dent in the problem. Especially for those-and you’ve seen them as well-who have kids sitting by their side as the mother (don’t think I’ve ever seen a man doing it) holds out a hand to cars at the red light.
But I fear that making a dent in the problem will be tougher, and more complex, than we imagine. One of the issues that defies easy solution is the deinstitutionalization of individuals with mental illness. This “reform” may have seemed like the right thing to do at the time. And relieved severe over crowding at Pueblo’s state hospital. But how many of those patients wound up begging on street corners? And not really interested, or able, to lead lives off the street?
I don’t know. I just know what I can do. And invite you to do the same.
But there came a time, after I became a Christian, that I soured on Hemingway. His nihilistic atheism. His misogyny and the way he treated women as mere objects. His he-man bravado on African safaris and lion hunts. And the tough guy bravado in the many war stories he wrote from personal experience. And, finally, the alcohol and even binge drinking that played into so many of his novels.