It was a beautiful, sunny morning in Paris as I walked along the Seine. It was my birthday and I was completely excited to be spending it in the city of lights!
Across the river, the Eiffel Tower’s wrought iron latticework gracefully sparkled in the sun. Below me I could spy on picturesque houseboats moored along the banks of the river and wondered what it would be like to vacation on one of them.
Tourist cameras were already snapping wildly as trinket vendors (les bouquinistes) began to set up their tiny stalls along the bridges.
I was heading towards the American Cathedral in Paris – on Avenue George V, in the heart of this wealthy tourist mecca – to begin my shift at their Mission Lunch.
Every Friday, 64 homeless and/or poor guests come for a hot, 3-course meal and dessert served by volunteers in a restaurant atmosphere.
The first question is usually, “How hot was it?” And I’m never quite sure how to explain it in a way that makes sense. Think about sitting in a sauna fully clothed and in work boots. Then think about playing soccer and football, digging trenches and sifting gravel in that sauna. For 8 hours. That’s pretty much the physical experience. But that does not convey how happy you are. That the heat only really registers occasionally, when you’ve hit the wall of exhaustion. Otherwise, you are feeling fulfilled in a way you just don’t feel in your everyday life.
“Life is meaningless without purpose and hope”…. these were words spoken by one of the former residents of the Market Street Mission, sharing his story with our group of volunteers. His story was unique to him but also familiar to other stories of addiction – a progressive spiral that moved from drinking to marijuana to increasingly powerful drugs, along the way experiencing homelessness, jail sentences, a multitude of court-mandated rehab centers, isolation from family….
The ‘bottom’ – the turning point – is different for each addict. Unfortunately, for over 100 people in the U.S. a day, that bottom is death. For our speaker, the bottom came when a 30-bag-a-day cocaine habit ended with an epiphany after almost dying from another overdose. Eventually he ended up at the Mission’s Recovery Program where he found a place of acceptance, spirituality, hope and possibility.