The dark, putrid body of a fly brings out something ominous and despondent in the human nature. Between an annoying buzz, the connotation with garbage, and often-dark imagery they provide, flies are the last image anyone would want to have personified on Thanksgiving Day. Yet, take a jaunt off the River Walk in the heart of San Antonio – mere yards away from pristine water, delicate flowers, and brimming families, and you can find the dark imagery of flies personified with dank garbage, lives on the precept of delicately breaking, and families a nuance of the past. Thanksgiving ought to be a time for family, joy, and reflecting upon that which one can be truly thankful for. Yet, there is a set of Americans who spend their Thanksgiving looking forward for anything – a mere morsel of food or dollar – to be thankful for. Take a moment to stride from the jovial path of precisely placed meals and family, and explore a Thanksgiving for the homeless and a realization for the need of unbiased care.
Thanksgiving for the Homeless – Giving Thanks in Detail
Thanksgiving on the Streets of San Antonio
Those ugly and bouncy flies that float around garbage cans provided a stark contrast to the clean River Walk on a cool, November morning in San Antonio, Texas. The flowing air of the River Walk only bring about the ‘annoyance’ of a silly duck gallivanting in their austere pride – and those ducks are barely annoying as children gawk at their tuxedo breasted ‘Daffy Duck’ goofiness. Just off the River Walk, however, that same cool air becomes the chilling air of past ghosts, bringing the pungent smell of over flowing garbage, car fumes, and cigarettes smoked in desperation.
As I stood with three new friends I made, the flies were obviously bothering me. Every buzz made me flinch and swing in futility to chase them away. James, however, sat there completely unsettled by the flies. One even landed on his rough and scrapped knee cap. Sadly, the realization dawned he was not enduring the flies out of bravery, but out of normalcy; the dark personification of flies had become part of his life.
Spending Thanksgiving Day on the streets of San Antonio was equally heart breaking, as it was a time for Thanks, and understanding how the simplest act of care can provide hope. As I stood in the flowing, bitter air, discussing life on the street with James, Jose, and David, one of the stark realizations is that Thanksgiving Day for them is not a singular day to hyperbolically give thanks, and then the next be unthankful as consumerism for some pointless item overfills the mind. Nay, Thanksgiving Day for the three unlikely friends, all from different backgrounds and interests, is celebrated every day as life becomes a fight for recapturing hope every day.
James shared his story with me, as Jose sipped on a golden can of Mountain Dew, and David patiently waited for the bus, holding their prized plate of golden yams and smoked turkey from the Convention Center as if they had found the Holy Grail.
James’ story began in Virginia, a long journey from Central Texas. However, his life turned south, literally and metaphorically, when he watched his best friend overdose in his apartment. The haunting death and lifestyle of drugs drove him to start over. To make matters worse, the overdose occurred on Father’s Day 2015. The demons of the dark apartment, now without his best friend, pushed him to Texas to start over.
Yet, starting over would quickly turn to fighting for his life. Without being privy to a clean lifestyle, further embattled by drugs, a job lifting boxes in the sweltering heat of a Texas summer brought up an unfamiliar pain in his right shoulder. A need to work and the unfamiliar pain lead to the inevitable: James ignored it.
That is, he ignored it until the staff infection had grown to become a bloody, disgusting stain on his body. Fortunately, the body’s immaculate attention to signaling pain drove him to the emergency room. Doctor’s were able to save his shoulder, but not his long-term plan. The next two months James spent in a nursing home, connected to a 240-milliliter bag of drugs that controlled the outcome of his life. Despite the staff infection’s parasitic yearning to overtake his body, doctors saved his life in those two months.
As James sat on the bench discussing his reality with me, I was shocked by his stoic nature. His right rotator cuff was completely torn. Under the sweatshirt he wore, the punctured shape of his shoulder was a sunken oval rather than a strong circle. Unable to lift his arm to 90 degrees, a simple, no-requirements job of working in a ware house was no longer viable. In fact, a lot of jobs were out of his reach due to the lack of mobility.
Yet, the meal he just had, and the left overs his group carried represented hope – a hope the trio desperately needed. Jose was rather quiet, but had a clear speech impediment someone with loving care could help him overcome. He was also drifting to sleep, only to be awoken when his can of Mountain Dew slipped from his worn grasp. David did not share his story, rather just commented on surrounding scenarios and a bevy of nuanced details he had to be thankful for.
Their inevitable bus ride was one of those reasons to be thankful; a ride which offered a trip to a new location, the return of what had become ‘comfort’, and a day relaxing to the smell of childhood dreams in buttered yams and bright stuffing. David’s saddened face was personified by desperation and the yearning for something more, yet child-like amidst the pain; a mere token of help let his heart breakthrough and provided proof that even his staunch lips could bear a smile he may not have had since the age of 10 or less.
Then, there was the inevitable events going on around us as we discussed the matters of life. David’s clear frustration broke through when a man carelessly dropped his tacos, dismissing it as an unfortunate blip on the radar. David expressed how something like that could have been his meal for the day, but it was now a meal for the relentless flies.
The flies were also spending their time with a skinny girl cross-legged on the ground next to us. Her deep, red sundress spoke of happier times compared to her now stained freckled face gnawing on a plain sandwich. At first, she seemed to be simply staring with the same despondent look found among the homeless. However, that despondent look soon turned into an expletive laden tirade to Jake.
Except there was no Jake next to her. James leaned in and quietly asked me if I had heard of Climax. I shook my head with confused ignorance. The details of the drug now appropriately labeled Climax began to come into clear sight as if he were prophesying the following minutes.
Her tirade turned into tears; her young-faced was that of a girl whose father or mother just left without the hope of returning. She managed cursing ‘Jake’ between angry bites of her sandwich. James described this is exactly what Climax does: induce deep hallucinations and moments of extreme anger.
The brokenness of tears turned into the brokenness of a past with possible anorexia now extrapolated by Climax as she told Jake, “I will eat whatever the [expletive] I want and do what I want”. Her frail frame was not only the frame of a homeless girl, but the frame of a girl battling drugs. James detailed how Climax not only gives a high like regular drugs, but induces a sudden drop in weight.
Climax is synthetic marijuana, yet is sold as more potent than marijuana, just without the dangers of being synthetically morphed to give a ‘Climax’ high advertised. The new drug is taking over San Antonio, and according to James is worse than Crack Cocaine. People do not realize the potency of the chemical manipulation bestowed by the word ‘synthetic’, thus take it in large amounts that lead to the afore mentioned affects and inevitable death as their addiction is procured. Without a realization for the danger of drugs or hallucinations, no emergency medical staff is called, and they spend their last days alone, frail, and dying.
Her body curled up into a frightened ball, hugging her knees and silently weeping, telling Jake he could, “[Expletive] off, do whatever you want.” Although her frame posed no threat to us, the wail of inhumane tears shook me.
After my heart had calmed from the tearful outcry, another man and his wife walked past our group, there destination who knows. However, he was more fit (such as myself) for the River Walk. But even as I stood amidst my Thanksgiving companions, his waive of the cane and dark look did not bestow hope, and instead blew a Scrooge like hole in our hearts of the difference in demeanor.
For one moment, the men next to me were just like him because of a prized turkey – the next, they were back to spending their days with the flies thanks to the dark sweep of a cane. The human capacity to deter hope is truly impressive. Just as simple thanks can be given, simple actions can derive dark thoughts.
The Hope of Food
However, the story does not end with the wave of a cane and the depravity of humanity. After the trio caught their bus, they sent me down the street to the Convention Center where the Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving Dinner was taking place. This is the location where they had found their treasured meal, and where thousands of others would find their own ‘Holy Grail’.
The rest of my day was spent shuttling yams, stuffing, green beans, and a carousel of Thanksgiving food onto plates. A mere 10 minutes passed by before the warm smell of ‘Grandmother’s Thanksgiving Kitchen’ passed off and became no smell, and my jeans covered in the mistakes of our expedited process. There was no time to think about the food, only the aim of getting the food on the plate (I managed to stride into only one other worker the entire day, albeit, at the expensive of a gravy pan).
Between the co-workers whose names I did not catch, the warm smile of the police protecting the facility, and the fun being had serving food, the hours were bright, child-like minutes. The city of San Antonio had managed to turn a convention center floor into grounds that brimmed with new hope.
The live band jovially playing traditional Mexican folk songs in stylized manner, the comfort of knowing a friendly police officer would not let any disdain occur, and a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner offered a chance for thousands of homeless and destitute to come through and experience care intermixed with new life.
Although they would have to soon return to the streets and face reality, the piles of food provided something different: care. On Thanksgiving, the details of care and simplicity are often overlooked. Not many humans have to spend their every day watching every other being around them for fear of being shanked for that one coat they do own. Not many will know the fear of having no home to return to, or the shame felt by trying to intermix on the austere River Walk Thanksgiving foray.
But for one day, for a few precious hours, there was thanks to be had for the simple care of a Thanksgiving meal. If David’s bitter face could be broken to grant a glimpse into the child-like part of his soul that still existed, then anyone’s staunch face could be broken.
Giving thanks is more than just being hyperbolic for one day; giving Thanks is about giving the simple grace of caring to those who need it most.