We had already folded and stacked most of the blankets and sleeping bags. A few people stayed sleeping on the floor, abandoned by their comrades who had already awakened, gathered their things, and moved to the other room where there was coffee and big boxes of donuts – chocolate and glazed.
I worked with a young woman with long dark hair. She was thin, slight, small, but muscular and fearless. She would heave heavy sleeping bags to the top of the stack, climb up blankets to rearrange the pile so it wouldn’t avalanche like it had days before. She seemed competent and sure and, for that, I thought she was a fine partner in this task we had, gathering blankets and sleeping bags from homeless people who had spent the night sleeping on the church gym floor.
We folded our arms and leaned against the door of the storeroom. We kept an eye on the few sleeping people, not wanting to hurry them but not wanting them to linger either. I asked her what she did when she wasn’t folding blankets and she told me she was an accountant. But then she told me she was a recovering person, 7 years. And that immediately changed our conversation.
I asked her what was the hardest thing about recovery. She looked at me long and hard and I wondered if I’d asked a wrong question. She was thinking. “Making the decision every day,” she said. I looked at her, puzzled, and she elaborated on her experience and how so much of it was still with her. When she said that, I could feel it coming off her, radiating, like she was making the decision that very moment.
She told me she volunteered as a recovery coach, helped people struggling with addiction to get themselves into treatment, but then she told me that wasn’t what she was doing at the warming room. She was just there to say hello, good morning, how are you, and fold people’s blankets and sleeping bags. I liked her for this because that was why I was there.
Then she told me about things she disagreed with as a recovering person, tiny things about how the warming room was run, but then she said that she welcomed the opportunity to be humble about her views, to meld with the whole, and that statement so resonated with me. I, too, welcomed the opportunity to be humble, but about different things, and to fold blankets and sleeping bags with no judgement.
I wanted to tell her things I would have no business telling a stranger. So I left to go gather up the small pieces of litter and empty water bottles and then to pull the heavy trash bag out of the garbage can next to the coffee table in the other room.
When I came back, she was stacking the last blankets and our work was almost done.