Morning broke and we were running toward a bus. Except it wasn't exactly a bus. It was a Soviet-era minivan that probably would fail most U.S. vehicle safety inspections based on looks alone.
But it did its job, sturdily making it through roads littered with potholes and narrow crevices deep within the lush and green Caucasus mountains. A mix-up had delayed the bus for hours, and so in a flash, we hopped on another one headed toward a remote mountain town, not realizing what the afternoon had in store for us.
A cold sweat of anxiety and panic settled in the deeper the bus chugged up and around the landscape.
Hours went by.
What were we doing, heading to the middle of nowhere without a plan, without any idea about how we would make it back, or if we could in time? But potential nervous breakdowns soon were put to rest. We were informally adopted by a family we had met on our little bus. They insisted we come to their house.
They fed us coffee and chunks of honeycomb cut straight from the bee box. They asked about life in America. They gave us a bag of grapes from their vineyard, took us sightseeing and drove us back to the bus station, stopping for a cold drink and roadside snacks at a waterfall. A few hours had felt like months with them.
As abstract as it sounds, it was a moment that I really felt human — a moment of emotion, of rawness, of unpredictability, of sights and smells that left no room for apathy. I felt like I was actually living, instead of going in a zombie-like state from one bubble box to another, from bed to my car, to mindless traffic, to a cubicle and repeating the process again without ever thinking about any of it.
For many of us, comfort often comes at a price: disengagement — disengagement from each other, from the world immediately around us and the world that's hundreds or thousands of miles away. Our lives have made it very easy for us to “turn off,” to not care and to not think.
The difference between my worlds, of Los Angeles and those winding Caucasus roads, were slowly turning into two oversimplified characterizations — the world of just being, and the one of actually living.
The rawness of everyday life, the ability to allow yourself to be mad or happy, to be on guard, to make things happen — and happen naturally — gets lost somewhere between traffic and shopping here. You can go months without ever really thinking about anything.
It was with this in mind that I accepted a kind invitation from a friend and spent my Tuesday evening helping cook and serve dinner to the residents at Ascencia, Glendale’s largest homeless services provider.
The menu was simple but hearty, and so was the atmosphere. After waiting what seemed like hours for the water to boil, everything else, including the pasta, garlic bread and sausage, fell into place. And dinner to a hungry but patient crowd was eventually served in a dizzying, energetic dash.
Despite a bit of internal worry and anxiety, the night ended successfully. Thank-yous were said, bellies were full, and the experience, as one might expect, was gratifying. But this isn't about that, or homelessness or a plea for volunteerism (although the center's Guest Chef program can always use the help).
It's more about how a few hours spent interacting with a group of people over the most basic of needs made me feel a little more engaged, a little more raw, and a little more emotional. Like what unfolded during my adventure in that rickety old truck, I felt a little more human again.