I had a made a personal commitment not to share comments about some of the major life events that I have had to endure. When I first started to write about my weekend with The Mankind Project and our few hours of service at The Midnight Mission, I realized it was an important part of the story. More importantly I thought it would help others dealing with their own hardship. I have turned some really tough corners lately, and I believe I am in a place in which I can share in a way that is positive and healthy. So here goes….
Turning some tough corners
For the past few years my personal life has been going through some great challenges. I was working full time while earning an MBA (completed in 2009), losing my home in Orange County and my marriage was ending. For most of the year I have been feeling like a failure. Failed my family, failed God, failed my wife, failed my grandfather (why him is another story)….failed myself. I was always an incredibly optimistic person, but I had become overwhelmed with trying to fight off the sense of despair. I think it made me very awkward in many ways. My confidence had been broke, and I couldn’t shake off the sense of shame, embarrassment and uncertainty. If it wasn’t for some of my closest friends I would have made it through this very dark time in my life. I’m blessed to have amazing friends and family.
One of these close friends suggested that I attend a weekend retreat put on by The Mankind Project. The weekend was called New Warrior Training, and it was the weirdest weekend of my life. Like any organization, this one had its critics. All I can say is that it was a very positive weekend for me. More on the weekend some other time, but here is a quick explanation.
Even with all of the progress women have made in the world, socially Men occupy most of the positions of power: socially, economically, politically. This has been true for years now. The problem is that men are damaged, wounded. Our wounds have gone untreated and are hemorrhaging. These wounded men are then making decisions about war, society, the economy, and home mortgages. The goal of The Mankind Project is to target men and begin to help them heal and behave as men of integrity.
I have been through many programs that forced me to look at many parts of who I am and the man I am capable of being. All of them have been great life changing experiences. This weekend was important, not because it was some how different from the rest, rather it was timely given the greater context of my life.
The New Warrior Training was a pretty intense weekend. During one of the designed exercises, I was forced to confront some feelings I have had as an 8 year old child. Nobody prompted me to do so, this was an area of my life that surfaced for me as a result. Most of these feelings are around my parents turbulent marriage. There was one moment in particular as a child in which I felt particularly responsible. In reality I wasn’t responsible, but I still felt like my parents problems were my fault. That some how, it was my responsibility to fix my family. I think I still feel this way…albeit I am coming to terms with the fact that this is an unrealistic expectation for me to have. I carried this into to my own marriage and when it did not work…I blamed myself. Like I said, I have already gone through many programs to help me address my childhood. The conclusion I am coming to is that I will not be able to make closure. This will be a life long process and a life long journey for me. It may even be something i continue to deal with at various stages of my life. Since the end of the weekend I have been trying to process much of what I have learning. Its obvious to me that I am changing, but I want to make sure I change for the better. Regardless of my childhood, and regardless at my first marriage, I still believe in the institution of marriage. I still hope to be a great husband and an even better father.
Another great part of the NWT weekend was watching other men grow and change as well. One in particular carpooled with me to our weekend retreat in Arrowhead. He was facing many of his own life challenges and was hoping and optimistic that he was going to change. One particular challenge was his ability to relate to other men and have meaningful and deep friendships with them. So when he reached out to me during the holidays to see if I wanted to do some volunteer work, I was very proud of him.
I love the holidays. This year I decided that it would be best for me to “party” less and commit more of my time to public service. I was struggling to find a good opportunity for a one off volunteer day. So when my MKP brother called, I jumped at the chance to volunteer. This was the same brother I mentioned earlier, so I was not only happy for the volunteer opportunity but really proud of the leadership role he was taking.
I am not sharing my experience for recognition. Also please, note that I am not a very pious individual. In a way, I did this for my own self gain. Because I needed to deal with something in my own life. I do, however, hope to make volunteer work a regular part of my life. Not because I want to or have to. Just because I should.
Since 1914, The Midnight Mission has been located on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. The organization is dedicated to helping those on Skid Row by offering them food, shelter, recovery services and employment services. Here is where we did our service. I was also able to recruit my close friend Ash, who had introduced me to MKP in the first place. He too was looking for service activity for New Years. Along with 8 other men, we fed men, women and children for New Year’s Eve. It was honor for me to do so. What was ironic is that I felt like I needed to feed the homeless more than they needed me.
I was fighting the flu at that time, and fortunately I was already taking antibiotics, so I knew I was not contagious. The last thing I wanted to do was to get someone with no home and no medical coverage the flu. When we arrived at the mission, I elected to take the activity that did not put me in direct contact with food.
The facility itself is impressive, clean, organized, and well cared for. I have to be honest, I did feel a sense of anxiety while driving down skid row. I left my car in the secured parking garage provided by The Mission and took the elevator up to meet the other men. It was great to see them. There were some men I knew from my weekend while the others attended MKP during other years. One of the men brought his teenage son to also volunteer. On the menu was pasta, snow peas, beans, toast, greek yogurt, and grape juice. All the food was placed on a single serving tray that our customers would line up and come and pick up. They sat down ate their food and left. In a period of two hours we were able to feed 691 people. I have no benchmark to know if that is a good number or bad. To be honest, I was hoping for a bigger number. However, many keep telling me that its pretty good.
I know the big question in your mind: What were the homeless people like? Well, you need to experience this yourself, so I’m not going to tell you. I will tell you this; I was shocked, scared, and happy to see many of the people we serviced. They came from all sorts of backgrounds. Its not my job to judge them, only to help. I stand by the fact that I needed them more than they needed me. I didn’t do much but feed and then clean up after them. More importantly, I only helped them for one meal. Their struggles continue.
My conclusion from the whole experience? Not really sure yet. I just know that I am product of what I did and that my goal is to continue to work with people throughout the year. Indeed, I have seen so much pain in my life. However, so have others, and while I am able and have the resources to do so; I should.