There is a house in our neighborhood in South Park that has a tree with a clothesline of poems that neighbors are encouraged to take and enjoy. I first stumbled upon it while walking around the neighborhood in my first couple of days here in San Diego. The owners call it the “Poetree.” Whether in the morning before work, when the sun is setting after a long day, or with a cup of coffee on the weekend, walking to the poetree makes me feel a little more at peace. It is something I look forward to, a small pause in the sometimes hectic pace of life. I often leave with a poem that spoke to me or one to mail to a friend or family member that I know would appreciate it. One of the poems I found at the tree is a mantra. It goes like this, “May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.” The message is one of idyllic harmony but also includes a more complex call to action and responsibility.
When I go to work at the clinic at Father Joe’s Village, I am called to serve patients who are experiencing homelessness on the streets of San Diego or who are under-insured and at risk for homelessness. Patients come to the clinic in need of a variety of physical, emotional, mental, and social services. Thinking about the mantra from the poetree, it is hard sometimes to imagine that freedom and happiness are a primary concern, when so many of our patients lack safety, shelter, and access to basic necessities. I am continuously confronted with the lived experiences of patients who are homeless. Through our visits and their stories, I have learned about the many things we, as a society, take for granted. I try to challenge myself with this mantra, to listen and not judge, to have patience, and to speak with kindness. Small actions can mean the world to someone who is so often ignored or forgotten.
In the remaining months of this service year, I will continue to look forward to my walks to the poetree and to remain grateful for the peace that it brings me. I will challenge myself to appreciate the many things I take for granted, and to use my thoughts, words, and actions to contribute in some small way to the lives of others.
San Diego, CA 2021-2022