Dignity. Webster defines it as “the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect”. Dignity is a basic human right and it lies at the very core of who we are as Parking Lot Pastors. The very first tattoo I ever got was the word beloved. It is a reminder to me that I am a beloved child of God and equally important it is a reminder that all who I encounter carry the divine with in them as named and claimed children of God. Beyond their choices, their living situations, their appearance, their mental illness, their addiction, they are a living breathing testament to God’s creation. So much of our work involves reminding people of this truth, of seeing them for who they are, and treating them with dignity.
On a cool. cloudy morning last week, we brewed an airpot full of coffee and headed out to do some street outreach. There were a few of our friends that we had not seen for awhile and we wanted to check in. We hadn’t even gotten a block away from the shelter when we spotted her sitting on the bench at the little town square park. We hadn’t seen her in weeks and the rumors had been flying about where she was and how she was doing. Her social worker had reached out to us wondering if we had seen her during outreach. We quickly parked the car and grabbed the coffee pot, an insulated cup and cream and sugar. She looked rough. Her eyes were gaunt and her clothes hung off her tiny frame. She looked at us wearily and gave a guarded hello. “Do you want some coffee?” we asked? “I suppose” she said. We assured her that we just wanted to check in on her and make sure she was okay. For the next several minutes she caught us up on her life. Her addiction to meth continued to encompass her life with a steal grip that seemed impossible to break. She told us stories of how she was constantly seen as a problem, as less then, as her addiction by law enforcement, crisis care providers and people she encountered on the street. “I’m human, ya know?” We know. We see you. We see how addiction speaks to you with a narrative that you are not enough, how deep trauma informs your every move. Yes, you are human, yes you deserve dignity, you are more than your trauma, your addiction, your life on the street. You are beloved. We try to convey all of this in a cup of hot coffee and a willingness to listen. After a little bit, she ready to be left alone to drink her coffee. We remind her that anytime she needs us we are there for her with no agenda other than to see her and to listen. Then it’s back in the car, coffee pot in hand. Looking for another lost friend.