Life is hard. It’s harder for some than it is for others, and if we live long enough we all experience those moments that force us to make that statement at some point in our lives. But if there’s one thing for sure that makes life worth living, is love.
Love showed up big this Saturday at Central Union Mission (the Mission), one of the largest men’s shelters in my hometown of Washington, D.C. I met men from all different walks of life who found themselves at the Mission because of the side effects of life happening – addictions, loss of employment, health challenges, loss of loved ones, you name it.
Dozens of us were there to help one of my dearest friends celebrate her birthday. Yep, my friends celebrate their birthdays by inviting their friends and families to serve more than 150 men at a homeless shelter. That is certainly love, and it was nothing short of phenomenal. What was phenomenal about it, you ask? Professional chefs and barbers took time away from their busiest and most productive days in their respective businesses to volunteer their skillsets and efforts to serve the men. Families, with children as young as four, came out and served together. What was most phenomenal to me though was that everyone, from the dozens of volunteers to the Mission staff to the men who were being served that day, all participated in selfless acts of love.
I had a unique bird’s eye view of the day because my role was to capture the moment with photos. I observed nearly everyone in that place and I couldn’t help but smile all day because even if for a brief moment, I witnessed each person think about someone other than themselves no matter what hardship was going on in their lives at the time. One of the residents of the shelter shared with me some health challenges he was having and then somehow our conversation shifted to my gray hair. (Side note: my natural gray hair paired with my youthful looking face seemed to be a popular subject among the men of the shelter lol.) When he sensed I felt a little insecure about it, he offered me a compliment and he smiled at me, which in turn made me smile. I witnessed a little girl who couldn’t have been older than eight, diligently wipe down one of the beds in the shelter and ask her family members if there was anything else she could do because it was important that the whole place be spic and span. Now I don’t have kids of my own yet but one thing I know for sure about many of them is how self-centered they can be but that truth was nowhere to be found that day.
Sometimes we think of love in these grandiose terms, perhaps because of the way we’ve been conditioned to think of love from the various forms of media that dominate our lives. Every now and again, we need to be reminded of what love is, like I was on Saturday. Love is simple words of encouragement or a smile or a listening ear to someone who needs it. It is the simple acts of kindness that don’t even take a whole lot of time and effort but can make a world of a difference in someone else’s life. Love is thinking of someone else more than you think of yourself, even if for a moment. If you are reading these words and you are encouraged or inspired in some way, that is love and my hope is you find some way to pay it forward today.

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