Every day on my commute to work, I walk past a group of people huddled near the base of the light rail and a bus stop. Growing up I would have learned to label as this group as “riff-raft.” Some days in the afternoon the bus stop smells like alcohol, the remains of broken wine bottles and smashed beer cans serving as self-evidence of the public consumption. People literally camp out there all day (sometimes even at night), play cards, drink, deal drugs and use the bushes as a urinal. Moving intentionally to South Seattle in order to be a part of community development initiatives, I had the glorious idea of hosting a BBQ or picnic with these folks in order to build relationships and get to know them as human beings. I knew in turn they would look out for me.
The BBQ has yet to happen, but from my daily commute we’ve grown accustomed to each other. At first I merely returned their greetings, making no eye contact. Eventually, I began to make small exchanges with some of the women. I think they appreciate being recognized as existing, as human beings who can communicate verbally. The man in the long trench coat who’s out at every hour was the first person to wish me “Happy Valentine’s” this year. That made my morning. As someone who’s love language is words of affirmation, the most priceless moment, though, was earlier this week when a woman called out, “You’re awesome!” Why, I have no idea. But it reinforced the reality that when we go somewhere expecting to give love, we receive it in greater doses back, often from surprising sources.