Valentine’s Day. A day for lovers. Commercial and not for me. If my husband of 30 years bought me roses I would be annoyed at the waste of money. Spend time with me and I feel loved. Valentine’s Day done.
Instead I spent it with two different ends of the extreme. My morning was spent listening to and then speaking with young immigrant women with the Youth Mentorship Program at the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association or CIWA. Surrounded by bright, bubbly and engaged women, I was awed and amazed by their passion and enthusiasm. When I was done speaking, I had a number of young women and staff approach me and thank me for my passion and advocacy in the community. I left feeling gratified. With these brilliant young women carrying the future in their hands, I am hopeful.
Now switch to my evening. A friend of mine is a fundraiser for the Calgary Drop In Centre, mostly known as The DI. His daughter Grace, about 8 years old, has been making beautiful bracelets and selling them. The money she has raised went to sponsoring a dinner at the DI, which costs about $1500. (her Dad got cake donated too!) A beautiful roast beef dinner with mashed potatoes, vegetables, bread and gravy was served, with a veggie choice for those of the vegetarian persuasion.
My job was to serve guests. Not clients, not homeless people, guests. I like that language. The dining room was filled with 530 people as we began service. Families from Grace’s school were also volunteering, and her schoolmates made 1000 Valentine’s cards for the guests. I watched Grace and one of her friends hand out the cards with their respective Mum’s and I felt my eyes begin to leak. (I was not crying).
Those of us serving donned plastic gloves, and stood in line at the kitchen taking two plates at a time out to the guests. I was thanked over and over again and even received a number of big smiles and “Happy Valentine’s Day” greetings. As we finished the room, we were asked to line up by the stairs as the initial guests left.
A second sitting began to enter. I asked my friend Mark how many folks would be served, as I had thought that once the room emptied we were done. But in fact a second set of guests entered. While not quite another 530, that was the usual amount. Now we were up to 1060. Mark informed me that one of the upstairs floors had already been served (150) and another 100 would most likely be served late. I am not a mathematician, but I think we are now at 1310. A really busy night, sees 1500. That’s right, 1500.
As the volunteers were finishing up the service, an announcement came over the PA asking the guests to thank us, the volunteers. As the guests applauded and many turned and smiled and said thank you, my eyes again filled with water. (I was STILL not crying).
We finished by bussing the tables and as we did, I watched folks line up to go upstairs to their beds. Some smiled at me, some were focused on their feet, and others were reading books. But what was apparent to me was the look of tiredness on their faces. I wondered how many kilometers they had walked that day and I thought about how my friends and I wore pedometers or fitbits or used our cellphones to count our steps. I felt the weight of my privilege, heavy on my shoulders.
As I drove home to have a glass of wine in my middle class home, with my husband, I reflected on what I had seen, smelled, touched, heard and yes, even tasted. I had been close to two ends of the human spectrum today; youth who were bright eyed and waiting for life to happen and guests at the DI who appeared a little weary. Tired.
But I felt hope with both groups. I felt that the little time I had donated was appreciated, by both groups. And I felt privileged to serve, with both groups.
This was not an ordinary Valentine’s Day. But I think it has been the best I have ever had. And now I WILL cry. Happy Valentine’s Day.