The Real Heroes
Josh in Boulder, CO
In the days leading up to leaving on the Just Say Hello Tour, I reached a level of stress that was quickly approaching nuclear meltdown. It was beyond the stress of travel, that stress of having to make sure everything was packed and ready. It was beyond the stress of moving, that stress of a major relocation and dismantling of everything life had been up until this point. It was beyond the stress of creating, of taking a project and releasing it into the world without any idea whether the world would receive it with boos, or with cheers, or with bored indifference. All three of those stresses I have dealt with before, and while intense, they are manageable. This was a combination of them all, and it was quite honestly more than I could bear. I cried a lot. I didn’t sleep well. My anxiety rose and my demeanor was often somewhere near (or past) frantic. I developed a ridiculously huge boil on the side of my head behind my ear that started to make me feel crazy with the pain (I considered, for a moment, stabbing myself and cutting it open to try to relieve the pressure). I quite honestly wanted to curl up in a ball and proclaim to the world, “I can’t do it. Sorry, I quit.” All this before I’d even started out, I thought… I don’t think I can manage this after all. Maybe I did bite off more than I can chew.
I didn’t, of course—quit, that is. I kept putting one foot forward, after another, and I got to launch day, miraculously. When, on the night before launch, I sat down to eat at 8pm, I finally took a bit of a breath. Realizing that in fact this was going to work out, that there were only a few last minute things to do, that the van was running and all the absolutely necessary tasks were done, I picked up my phone and responded to one of my friends who had been checking in on me. I told her that it was all pretty much done, and I asked, “How do people do this kind of stuff without support systems?” She replied easily: “They don’t.”
Without a support system, I could not have taken on a project like this. It is really that simple. My level of stress, exhaustion, and overwhelm reached a point where I was unable to tackle the simplest of tasks if they were new or outside of my comfort zone (How do you start a propane fridge? I had to call a friend). My body was reacting with a myriad of real physical problems due to my mental state. Not once but twice, friends called to check in and then were so worried about my mental state that despite my protests that I was fine they dropped everything and drove an hour out to where I was staying to jump in and help me.
But let’s be real: This is just a social justice project. It’s not life or death we are talking about here. It’s just four months of my life. No matter what happens I have an amazing support system to return home to. I chose to do this, and I have been cheered on and told over and over by people since announcing it that I am brave, and strong, and amazing, and a hero for taking something like this on. On the scale of traumatic life events, this one really doesn’t deserve to rank… It was stressful, but then the transition was over, and the adventure of being on the road started to sink in. I managed. I got through it. I created this thing and launched it and made it real. I felt (and continue to feel) accomplished and proud.
The Launch Party for the Tour: Some of my extensive support system showed up to wave us out.
Perspective is so important. It did not escape me, even at the height of the panic and the stress and the wanting to stab myself behind my ear, that this is likely about 5% of the stress a person might feel as they are facing homelessness and trying to navigate the system, and I had about 95% more support from community than the average person experiencing homelessness might receive. I chose to do this project, and yet the stress of letting go of all our belongings and trying to move through a completely unknown next chapter almost crippled me. Now imagine if it was something that I didn’t choose, and something I didn’t want. Imagine if my things were being taken from me against my will, or if I didn’t have any place to store the precious family hand me downs and pictures that wouldn’t fit in my new cramped space. Imagine if I didn’t have any money to fix things that broke, to make sure that my daughter and I stayed fed and clothed and warm and in safe camping spots. Imagine if I had to go through all of this with people jeering at me, yelling insults at me, judging me and spitting on me and treating me like I wasn’t even human, or ignoring me completely as if I didn’t exist. It doesn’t seem humanly possible to continue to exist under that kind of stress.
And yet people do, every single day. At least half a million Americans, one quarter of them children, live under that kind of stress and manage to keep getting up each day to fight through another day and attempt to meet their most basic human needs of food, water, safety, and shelter. As they do so, as they continue to persist against all odds, fighting to survive, they aren’t cheered, or patted on the back, or told they are brave. Instead, those that are homeless are told again and again, through both overt vicious words and subtle quiet messages, that they are trash, that they are worthless, and that they should just give up. They are subject to a level of derision from society that most of us cannot fathom. And yet… they keep going, day after day, fighting for their existence anyway.
Joey, living in his van with his disabled wife and two dogs in Spokane
Mateo, playing his newly gifted guitar in the park
I have met the most beautiful people out here on the road. They are the real heroes. I am just the person lucky enough to be telling their stories. You cannot imagine what they go through; neither can I, even as I attempt to understand. They deserve respect and admiration for all they face each day, not judgment and derision. They deserve our hellos.