Homeless with Gratitude: Attitude Adjustment

being homeless

As a reporter I have to be mentally tough, but I’m also emotionally fragile. I cry easily.

As many writers do, I read my work to a group of fellow writers for their feedback before I submit a story to a publisher.

I can’t do that with this Homeless with Gratitude series, because I can’t read aloud when I’m crying. Last week, a colleague gently took my story from me and finished reading it for me.

I don’t remember the exact day, but suddenly last summer my life was changed forever.

A couple hours after Della ordered me not to get a cash advance on my credit card to buy the trailer I wanted, she came up to my desk grinning like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. Triumphantly, she handed me a slip of paper. It had more than a dozen names on it with the amount of money each had pledged to donate to my trailer fund.

The list totaled $1,515.

Combined with the $2,000 I already had, it was more than enough to buy the trailer outright. Some of the donations were from close OSXC colleagues and board members. Other pledges came from volunteers I hardly knew.

Topping the list of donors was $500 from Della and her husband Alex.

Gobsmacked. Dumbstruck. Stunned. There’s not a word in the Roget’s Thesaurus that could possibly describe how I felt at that moment.

I was definitely verklempt, too overwhelmed to speak. I just cried. Nothing like this had ever happened to me.

I don’t remember it, but my parents told me when I was very young, I broke down sobbing Christmas morning. “It’s too much!” I cried. “Too much.”

On an objective level, I can understand that maybe I deserved this gift. I had devoted hundreds of volunteer hours to OSXC. Nevertheless, on a subjective level: too much.

Shrinks and other advisors keep telling me I need to learn to love myself. I don’t even know what that means.

I’m just trying to be a good person, and I’ve never felt like I was good enough. Being homeless sometimes and mostly alone in my life just seemed proof of that.

Had my proof just been disproved? I couldn’t talk for almost an hour. I was in a kind of traumatic shock. This was a life event.

I obsessed over what I could do that would be a better than good enough expression of my gratitude. Ultimately, it would take me almost six months to create tangible and personal notes to each person. I didn’t want to just say thank you.

I wanted to touch their hearts as they had mine.

Meanwhile, I had a trailer to buy and a complex documentary on OSXC to complete with a looming deadline. For the time being, I sent a generic email to all my benefactors promising a personal thank you to each in the near future.

If I believed in such things, I would say I was blessed and surrounded by angels.

What I do believe is that the people and events of the summer of 2018 changed me. I never looked at life the same way again. I now have an enduring attitude of gratitude.

“And the days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations, those are really good days.”

~Ray Wylie Hubbard

In the final part five of this series (to be published on August 31, 2019), being homeless never felt so right. Click for part one,  part two and part three in this series.

Tom Durkin

Tom Durkin


Tom Durkin is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer. He has two degrees with honors from UCLA. He has been episodically homeless since 1979. At age 40, he was diagnosed as bipolar with three personality disorders, childhood PTSD and ADHD. "Well, that explained a lot," he laughs. Presently, at 71, he lives illegally and happily below the radar in a trailer on some friends' wildland property in the Sierra Nevada Foothills.

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