In “Samskaras,” JMayer, a priest with the Franciscan workers of Junipero Serra, writes about how he deals with his own spiritual “laziness” and occasional lack of compassion towards the people who live on the streets, including drug dealers and addicts in Salinas Chinatown. His post is on the Dorothy’s Place blog.
By comparison, I am in Chinatown only a couple times a month. But Mayer’s article is moving, because any day on Soledad St. can be challenging; you can’t help but be aware of the drug scene that’s happening all around you, and of people who are obviously troubled and in need of help. I also appreciate that he draws from many sources for inspiration, including the Buddha, and Rumi, as well as Jesus.
Being in Chinatown and actually talking with the residents has helped a lot, though; and I have been able to see moments of kindness, helpfulness, and understanding from the people who live on Soledad Street, as well as from those who do volunteer work there. I’m thinking, for example, if the homeless guy who sweeps in front of the Republic Cafe, and another man who lives in one of the tents who rushed over to help when an A.C.E. visitor stumbled and fell to the street.
I’m fortunate in that I’ve had a little bit of experience of this sort, from working at Louden Nelson Community Center in Santa Cruz, back when it had just opened in a troubled neighborhood. At the front desk, we encountered all kinds of people, including volunteers, childcare workers, the homeless, students attending classes, the elderly, and people just out of jail. As a human, it’s easy to fall into stereotyping and habitual thinking about different groups of people. At the same time, you need to maintain a certain cautiousness to stay safe. But when you’re working at a job like that, eventually the human element becomes apparent, and you begin to see past the surface and to the person inside.