Friends! I'm thrilled to be introducing a brand new year-long series to the blog today. Well, technically it's a revamp of last year's Celebration Series, with a little bit of a twist. Here's the story behind it:
The idea began with me sitting on the floor of my dear friend's house on election night, clutching Beau's arm and sobbing. Yes, it was as pathetic as it sounds. (And SNL pretty much NAILED our experience with this skit).
Admittedly, I'm no policy expert. But I can speak to human decency, respect, empathy, and acceptance of those who are different than us...and in those areas, I was feeling a complete loss of hope. We were all sitting there quietly, processing in our own ways (the best of which was probably smashing our election day cake and trying to find a tiny bit of humor in the whole thing), when Brian, one of the hosts of the party and one of the KINDEST people that I've ever known, spoke up. He thought that we should go around the room and express how we're feeling and how we should respond.
My mind was spinning with completely irrational thoughts (like, "we should never have kids because how could I bring an innocent life into this awful, unkind world") and I mostly stayed silent, listening to my inspiring, beautiful friends find and express hope for the future. And then, as people started to disperse, I finally spoke up.
I softly said something along the lines of, "I want to use my art to help, but I have no idea how to do that."
My friends who were left, led by Beau, all shared some ideas, one of which really hit home. I could use the Celebration Series as a means to interview, and therefore bring humanity and empathy, to folks who are very different than myself. People who look different than I do, who have experienced hardship, who haven't had the same privilege that I've been so lucky to have.
I began to think of ways to accomplish this, and then my friend Alison (the other host of the party and one of my dearest friends!) contacted me with an idea. Her organization, Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, was looking for a way to share stories surrounding the topics of hunger, community, food and social justice. And thus, the new series was born.
I'm going to call it Hunger and Hope, my goals are two-fold:
1. To help spread awareness about all of the great work that Alison and the rest of the fine-folks at Partners are doing in the world.
2. To introduce myself (and YOU!) to people who are different than us. To cultivate empathy and advocacy as we hear their stories. To bring humanity to groups of people that our culture tends to overlook.
Today we're going to meet Paul Delurey, whose story about hope is completely moving and beautiful. It speaks for itself, so I'll stop here and let you dive in. But first, I just want to say thank you for following along. I'm grateful to have a small venue to talk about the things that matter to me, and I'm hopeful that you'll get something out of it too. :)
Paul’s Story: Of hunger, housing, and hope
About a year ago, I found myself living on the streets in Portland, not sure where life would bring me the next day.
I grew up in Upstate New York to a working-class Catholic family. The values I learned growing up were about working hard, caring for your neighbor, and always having hope. I was lucky to have the kind of childhood where I never worried about being loved, and never worried about being well-fed. I took those things for granted.
By the time I was in college, though, I was experiencing a lot of stress and anxiety at school. I started drinking to cope with the stress, and eventually dropped out of school to travel and work odd jobs. In my early 30s I got sober, got a degree, found work as an engineer, married, bought a house, and had three beautiful kids. I had it all.
But life has a way of coming back at you. Work became more and more stressful, and I was putting more and more pressure on myself to be the perfect husband, the provider, and father. I started drinking again. When my marriage fell apart, my mental health fell apart, and I spiraled into depression, addiction, and psychosis. That’s how I found myself on the streets — after I had burned through all the resources I had. But somehow, that spark of hope, love, and work ethic my family instilled in me so long ago remained. I think that’s how I survived. I’m lucky I’m alive today.
To me, when people talk about hunger, they’re not just talking about food. Hunger is interconnected with so many other issues – like whether someone is able to have a warm, stable roof over their head, or access to mental health services and addiction counseling. When I was living on the streets, I knew how to find a hot meal or a food box. But it was harder to find affordable housing and support for my mental health — and ultimately, that’s what impacted my access to food, to transportation, and to so many other important things. Even basic human things like hope.
When we talk about social supports, and whether or not people “deserve” to get help, we shouldn’t be talking about what people have accomplished, or even who they are. We should be talking about how hard they try. People out there on the streets are trying really hard. Trying to sign up for SNAP. Trying to find a place to sleep. Trying to find some basic human connection. But when you try and you try and you don’t get anywhere, you lose hope. And that’s when things get harder.
Everyone needs to have a little spark of hope every day to survive — at least, that’s how it is for me. I need to feel like the work I’m doing is good, like I’m helping people out and building community, like I’m contributing something to the world, however small it might be. That’s what I want for everyone — just a little spark of hope.
Love & Respect,