One of the most valuable lessons I learned from my mother is morning work. There are a few basic tasks that, if done first thing in the morning, set a positive, productive tone for the rest of the day. It doesn't really matter what they are. For her, it was making sure the dishes were done, the beds were made, the floor was swept. For me, it's often been to start a load of laundry and make my lists. Some years is was reading and meditating, because that's all I could muster.
Now, with the internet, disabilities, and a lot of free time, my lifestyle has slowed down dramatically. Morning work is checking email, scheduling volunteers, and determining where this week's food donations will go. I rarely have to leave the house in the morning, so even getting dressed isn't very high on the list. But every time I think I'd better start a load of laundry before I go to some appointment, I remember my mom, her good habits, and her strongly positive influence.
What does morning work look like when you're living on the streets? That depends a lot on whether you still have any hope. With hope, you can find the driest socks or put plastic bags over your feet, and put your shoes on. Shoes get wet and worn out, so a water barrier is really helpful. You put on the cleanest clothes you have, knowing that this could be the day that you connect with some sort of help or promise. You don't have access to laundry facilities, so you tend to throw out the worst of your clothes and search through free ones. You put your belongings in order, whether it's tucking them away in your tent or loading up your shopping cart. You go in search of a private place to relieve yourself, you seek out water to wash up as best you can, and you set out on the search for food. The activities of homeless people who still have hope are very similar to pre-civilization humans. They're basic, performed to meet fundamental needs. There are no choices -- you do what you have to do to survive.
For those who have lost hope, mornings are cruel re-awakenings to your plight. At least in sleep you can dream about what life used to be like. You can imagine comfort and companionship and productivity. But the cold light of morning brings reality crashing in so violently that it makes your head hurt. You take stock of where you are and whether you still have any belongings, and then you most likely just get up and move along. There's no place to call home. There's no food or warmth or dryness or conversation. There's certainly no hot coffee. Morning is nothing but a reminder that your misery continues, and you hope for nothing more than to not have to wake up one morning, to be finished with your meaningless shadow of an existence.
I'm so grateful for my morning work. My husband makes the coffee. All I have to do is sit and think, read, write, and plan. I know every day will bring joy and satisfaction. I start a load of laundry or unload the dishwasher because I know these things matter, because I have places to go and people to interact with and a home to treasure as a safe oasis in this crazy world. I make my lists, and always, written or not, I know that a goal, each and every day, is to offer a sliver of hope to someone out there who has none.
Susie Snortum is passionate about improving society's compassion for meeting basic human needs -- food, shelter, clean water, and dignity.