Monday, March 26, 2012

The Ripple Effect

As we get close to completion of These Storied Streets, or whatever the name ends up being when we are through, I often wonder about the impact that we have made or that we might make.  The goal of the film has always been to not just raise awareness but to call people to take action, to create change themselves, to make a difference in someone’s life by reaching out.

I told a friend that I get emails from time to time about people that have decided to help because they were made more aware by our film clip on the website, a conversation with a member of our crew, or by something they heard about the film.  I said of all of the things that have happened along the way, these are when I feel best—when I feel like we are getting closer to what we set out to do and when I hope that the ripples in the waters of lives go far.  At least they were the most impactful.

The other night my kids, my wife and I were messing around playing a game that my daughter Kylie had been taught at a recent acting class.  It was a game of improv and was quite funny.  We laughed and joked as we each took our turns trying our hand at acting and humor.  We come up with a lot of stuff like this and these games provide some hilarious moments that I will never forget as a father.  But tonight, for a couple of seconds, the laughing stopped.  My son Bryan, who is 10, referred to someone as a “hobo” basically a bum.  I stopped and said, “Bryan, let’s not use those kinds of words.” He said ok but I could tell by the look on his face he wasn’t sure why.  I explained that those were words used often to describe the homeless, usually in a derogatory way.  I thought we would just go on with the game but I looked over to find Bryan crying.

I took him aside and asked what was wrong.  He said he was so sorry and just couldn’t stop crying.  I again said it was ok, he really didn’t mean anything by it and he certainly didn’t say it with any sort of malice.  He looked up and said, “Dad, when you said that all I could think of is Mr. Phillip and the last thing I want to do is say anything bad about him—I think he’s been through enough, don’t you?”

Phillip Lewis is a 30 year old man that happens to live in Charlotte, and happens to be in our film.  He was a stay-at-home dad but when his wife lost her job, they went through the little savings they had, and neither could find work so she took their kids and moved back to Baltimore with her family.  Phillip was not welcome, as it seems being the man makes you the provider and when he couldn’t provide the doors were closed for him.  I realize that I have one side of the story, but knowing Phillip, I believe that it is the way that he says it is.  Phillip is now homeless and lives at a men’s shelter.  He gets up every day and walks an hour to work, 5,872 steps to be exact, with 70 pounds (everything he owns) on his back, works a full day as a cook or a dishwasher—depending on what the restaurant needs—and then loads up the 70 pound sea bag and walks an hour back to the shelter.  Rain, snow, heat, whatever… 5 days a week he makes that walk.  With what he pays in support for his sons, the bills to keep a phone on, etc. Phillip, like nearly 40% of the homeless population, just doesn’t make enough money to afford an apartment.  To try to help, we started having Phil over for dinner once a week.  While he was here we would do his laundry.  From time to time he would stay over, but the logistics of getting everyone to where they needed to be in the morning made him feel like he was a bother, so he didn’t stay much.

What was amazing is that the meal and the laundry were secondary to the time he spent with all of us.  He couldn’t wait to play my son Bryan in basketball or ping-pong, he would challenge my 5 year old in whatever Xbox game he may know how to play, and he would talk to my daughter about playing basketball or books that she was reading.  We all look forward to having him as much as he looks forward to coming.

I have to say the sadness of Phil leaving is more than just seeing a friend going.  It is the reality of where he goes and what he goes through between the time we see him and the next.  He has recounted for me the ridicule, harassment, and humiliation that he suffers on a pretty regular basis.  He smiles and shakes it off and says “It’s all part of the journey.”  He has an amazing heart.  We gave him 5 winter jackets before he kept one, always finding someone who needed it more than he did and giving it away.  I found a guy that wanted to give him a bike, but before he could even deliver it, Phil said “listen, I know this old guy who can really use it—can you check and see if it is ok for me to give it away.”  He promptly did, smiling as he received it knowing HE was going to be able to help someone with it.  He is an incredible guy. 

Phillip has changed us as a family and we will never be able to repay him for all that he has taught us about ourselves.  It was most evident that night, with my son Bryan crying, fearing that he in some way had said something “bad” that would be insulting or further humiliating to Mr. Phillip.  This is when I thought that maybe this “ripple” was a little bigger and maybe it would move a little longer—not because of just Phillip or because of Bryan, but because of the relationship, the friendship, that would not allow my son to ever look at a homeless person in judgement.  Instead I do believe he looks at them in awe, appreciating where they have been, what they face every day, and the mountain they are climbing trying to get out.

My son Bryan has a great heart, following in the footsteps of his friend, Mr. Phillip.

1 comment:

Brittany Bartlett said...

Hey Tom ! Glad to hear you're still active in the documentary business... Thanks for sharing on your blog... Inspiring to hear what you're up to!
I just started my journey as a mom... This blog definitely brought a tear to my eye.
Let me know if you end up in seattle anytime!!
Britt (from kidder mathews/gsa dds project)