On Appreciation … or “That time I lived in a Volkswagen”

I was walking along the bike path behind my office this week and I thought to myself, I am extremely fortunate to have this small bit of nature at my disposal. I observed falling leaves, chirping finches, a delicate dragonfly, a hawk circling above. Every time I walk this path, I remind myself to appreciate these small things and the freedoms and comforts I am afforded. There have been many struggles in my life, however, none so grand that I can allow myself to forget to feel and express gratitude. I see it as part of my duty on this earth to appreciate as much as I can, for as long as I can, whenever I can.

I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about the time when I was in college when I was more-or-less homeless. It was brief (probably no more than a month or so), but nonetheless, a terrifying situation for a 19 year old college student 300 miles from home.

Let me preface by saying that sometimes you find yourself in situations that aren’t always what they seem. Had I not been so young and naive, there’s a chance I wouldn’t have found myself in this situation, however, sometimes life just has a way of happening to you. You see people on the street, in situations you think you might understand, but have no way of really knowing what might be happening behind the scenes — might I make another case here for choosing to be kind and gentle with one another. Things truly are not often what they seem.

But back to the story: I made some interesting choices (that I might discuss in detail later) that involved college, a cult, and my stubbornly adventuresome attitude. Around two weeks before my 20th birthday, I found myself moving out of one apartment, only for my new roommate situation to fall through last minute. I was homeless.

I had a part-time job, a car, and (if I remember correctly) a cell phone. I was in school at the time, and I had enough couches to sleep on during the week so that I could clean up for work. Very few people actually knew that I was living out of my car, and I managed to let the ones who did know, think that I had more places to go than I might have actually had.

The nights that stood out the most were the ones in which I bundled up in my car at the train station, a quiet neighborhood, or at the beach. One night I got away with sleeping on the sand for a few hours. On other nights I slowly drank coffee at Denny’s with my head in a text book, trying to steal short naps when the servers left me alone. I would sleep in the school library with a book on my lap in the afternoons, or even nap on the grass in the park, when the daylight masked my “sleep” and labeled it as merely a “nap.” I was just another kid enjoying the park between classes. I napped when I could, and I’d find things to do at night when I had nowhere to go. I would drive around looking for inconspicuous places to park, and move when I was being observed as shady. I’d sit in coffee shops as long as I could, under the pretense of studying for class. Even a 24-hour Kmart was a brief respite. On the weekends, I could always find a party to pass out at.

I racked up quite the debt eating out for every meal, and constantly filling up my gas tank. Three days a week I got away with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that I could make at work and leave the jelly in the fridge. The rest of the time, I subsisted on fifty cent bean and cheese burritos from Del Taco. Denny’s was a splurge, but it was worth it for the shelter. I was also keeping a small storage unit with what few belongings I had in it. When the facility was open, sometimes I would go and just sit among my things, just to feel comforted. I don’t even think my parents knew I was homeless.

For someone with no home, I was still so, so fortunate. I had family to call, and if they had known the magnitude of my situation, they would have been there in a heartbeat. I had safe couches to sleep on; I had a vehicle. I even had a job. I was able to stay in school, keep working, keep paying bills and keep feeding myself – I was so fortunate. 

Not everyone is.

In retrospect, however, I still appreciated the freedoms that I had during that time, and what I took from the situation: I have so much now, but whatever happens, I know I will survive. I suppose the moral of my brief story here is that we should not take what we have for granted — no matter how little or how large what we have might be. And I implore you, dear reader, to put some thought into the things that are in your lives to be appreciated, and to appreciate them with all of your being.  

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