Snob. That is the one word that kept popping in my head while spending a weekend in New Orleans. Not because that is what I saw in others, but because it is what I saw in myself.
On a recent journey to the Big Easy to do some work for the upcoming ELCA Youth Gathering, there were no hotels available because of Jazz Fest, which is almost as crazy as Mardi Gras. So, with nowhere to go, we stayed a local community center.
Comfort was not part of this experience.
After a few evening meetings in a frugal dining hall, it was time to go up and get settled in our sleeping quarters. I carried my luggage to the stairway, past the security guard and up to the second floor. When I entered the room, I could not believe what I saw. There were bunks- lots and lots of bunks. Some bunks were even stacked 3 beds high. None of them had a complete set of springs and many were right next to each other. Most of the frames had gum stuck underneath, in a variety of colors.
Since I was very tired, I was hoping I could look past all these details, including the snoring from some of the 30 others in the room. So I climbed into my bed and sunk into the center … unable to move the rest of the night.
After getting very little sleep, I was looking forward to breakfast. I stumbled downstairs, got in the food line and plopped on my plate was 2 pieces of burned French toast. I smothered it in imitation maple syrup, ate around the charred sides, sipped some terrible coffee, and bussed my dishes.
I was then instructed to step over to a table where I had to pack a bag lunch. There was white bread, peanut butter and jelly. The only options were crunchy or creamy. After stuffing my sandwich into a paper lunch bag, I heard an announcement that we were being kicked out. It was almost 7:15AM, and the homeless would be here soon for breakfast.
With nowhere to go, I walked down with a couple of others to a Starbucks inside the lobby of a beautiful Sheraton hotel near the French Quarter. I sipped my delightful coffee next to a relaxing water fountain and enjoyed the air-conditioned comfort. I found some peace, and even wondered if they might have a room that opened up for the night.
After a few productive hours of work in the city, it was time to head back to the community center, where we would eat our lunch and process our morning. On the way back, we saw homeless individuals walking out of the center with very large brown bags. Inside was a huge meat and cheese sandwich on a beautiful roll, along with a soda and some other fresh sides such as fruit and carrots. This was the SAME community center that gave us the option of chunky or creamy on generic Wonder Bread.
I will admit, the expression “this is not fair” crossed my mind, and possibly came out in a murmur. Why do the homeless get a fabulous meal, while I get one that is only enjoyed by a kindergartner?
Yes, I am a little embarrassed, and … a little humbled. I take for granted every day the little things that are routine. Good coffee, a fresh breakfast, and a comfortable home.
Sure, I know there are homeless people, and I have even volunteered for a few hours now and then to serve at a local soup kitchen. I bring cans of food to the food shelf and I donate to the Salvation Army. But I never had the chance to live among the homeless, and more importantly, to be inconvenienced by them. Inconvenienced not only because I was kicked out so they could be served, but inconvenienced because I was uncomfortable.
I have to admit, this was an experience I don’t look forward to again, However, I am slightly more aware, and even a little changed. For this, I am thankful.