Monday, May 24, 2010

The Member of the Month

Over the weekend we non-resident members of Blair House (i.e., the volunteers) had a spirited conversation about which of the resident BOMF member should be our first "Member of the Month." There were a lot of opinions, and each one was backed up with a convincing reason: who has made every run (even the ones in the rain), who cheers for his teammates loudest, who complains the least, who has improved the most, who do others seem to look up to, who is in danger of getting lost in the crowd? Now, I suppose the good news is that with 12 members and 12 months each and every one of these nominations can get the award sooner or later. But the exercise itself was an excellent reminder that there is no one "homeless person."

Everybody stereotypes--c'mon, don't deny it, when's the last time you just knew that slow driver in front of you was an old a hat--and it isn't always for ignoble reasons. To fight for people it can be expedient to lump them together as The People. Homelessness is a crisis and sometimes just trotting out the horrifying total numbers is the most effective way to get people to snap to attention. (Best estimates put the number at 3.5 million Americans over the course of a year, and between 660,000 and 800,000 on any given night, numbers that as you might imagine are on the rise in this economy.)

But as I spend more and more time with the guys at Blair House it becomes impossible to lump them together like that; everyone's story is just too different. Not only did they each take a different path, they've each ended up in a very different place, even if all those places share the same physical address. Angry, frustrated, determined, philosophical, cavalier, stoic, brave, rueful, grateful: all of these, and none of these, are the right response to finding oneself living in a shelter.

So who's the Member of the Month? Some one person will be named (yeah, I know who but we won't announce it 'til the end of the week), and he'll get tickets to take a pal to see a movie one night. But really, they all are.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


OK, technically I am not "absent without leave." I mean, I told folks that I had to travel for work, and I fulfilled my Coach duties earlier today by mapping and mailing a route for the run tomorrow morning. Nevertheless, between dropping the dog off at the boarding facility (very swanky, thank you, so no disparaging comments about me farming her out) and getting everything set up for the cat sitter, not to mention the minor time-consuming indignities of the TSA, I have to miss my run with the BOMF crew tomorrow morning. And that bums me out.

The fact is, nobody else in my life is as consistently cheerful and filled with smiles early in the morning as Greg. And Al simply cracks me up. Kevin likes to slyly challenge me to run faster than perhaps I wanted, and Mike and Scott remind me that sometimes slowing down means you can take the time to learn something new. Will, Ron and Pierre teach me that quality can be more important than quantity when it comes to chatter, and I appreciate that Jose comes out to warm up with us even on days that he then has to scoot off to the job that keeps him on his feet all day long. Anthony loves to talk running, just like me, and Ralph makes me giggle. Andrea's smile lights up the whole city, and Meghan has a great laugh (plus she's a fellow Clevelander). Kelly is a firecracker, Stephanie is charmingly sleepy and Todd has just the right balance of self-effacement and authority. Dave, Tim, Beth, Michelle, Brenda, Steve--every week the group embraces more and more people committed to changing the world one mile at a time, every one of them with something to teach me about being a better person.

I am so very glad I'll be back in time for the run on Friday!!!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Running Our Own Race

On Sunday the Blair House guys run their first 5k race, and I am terribly terribly jealous about it. I still remember how it felt the first time I ran across a finish line and while I can rejoice in extending the distance or improving the time, I also know it'll never feel quite like that again. It was one of those breast cancer runs--but because it was Los Angeles and because Oprah was running it, it was of course outsized. And very very pink. I'd spent a year recovering from a horrible bike/car accident (I was on the losing side) including a fractured pelvic bone and a punctured lung and was running in honor of my grandmother who'd recently been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Between us, I was not entirely sure I could do the distance. Given the crowds it was hard to start off too fast or, frankly, finish too fast, but it did force you to run your own race. Whether you call it 5 kilometers or just over 3 miles, it feels long the first time you do it and you find yourself searching for those mile markers. But during the last half mile something happened: there were loads of cheering people as we rounded the UCLA campus and I found that I actually felt pretty good. Even with those hills--and if Westwood offers anything to a runner it's lots and lots of hills--my legs were strong and I was still running. When I saw the finish banner I thought, well I'll be damned, I'm going to do this! And seconds later, somewhat to my surprise, I did finish and got a little teary as I picked up my medal.

No one's affliction is any better or worse than any one else's, but many of these guys are overcoming problems much longer lasting than any single car accident. Nevertheless, they've been putting in the miles three times a week getting stronger and stronger. This Sunday they'll all cross their first 5k finish line, and I predict I'll get all teary all over again.