What I learned from sleeping on the street

Cold in the bones. We’ve all heard that expression sometime in our lives. However, very few of us can say, fortunately, that we have experienced it in our bodies.

It was a day in early December. Although we often hear that the cold is no longer what it used to be, that night promised not to let the proud winter down. That evening I attended an event whose aim was to bring people closer to the problems of the homeless, to claim their rights and to give them a voice.

The reason I attended, more than a deep empathy for our most forgotten loved ones, was selfish. Personally, I am very attracted to new experiences. Whenever I have an opportunity to learn something new or to test myself I don’t let it go. This time I wanted to approach the situation of these people that was so unfamiliar to me. I wanted them to help me to be a better person, to be more human.

The event started close to the end of the afternoon and the night had already turned on us. Couples and groups of friends were swirling around me, encouraged by a series of concerts they were giving. These were interrupted from time to time to broadcast short films about people who until recently lived on the streets but already had their own home.

All the videos were touching in themselves, but the words of one woman touched my heart. Besides stressing how grateful she was to finally have her own home, she said that what made her happiest was that someone cared about her again, called her by name and asked her how she was doing and how she was doing. It seemed so basic to me in the life of every human being, yet so simple and humble, that a flood of feelings flooded through me. That person, surely more than a house, missed feeling loved, recognized and respected. She wanted to be someone again under the eyes of others, and her own. That night I learned a beautiful lesson with her words, I promised myself never to forget them.

After a few hours of standing without any shelter, the cold had already taken hold of me. I must admit that on more than one occasion it crossed my mind to give up and go home: I had suddenly started to miss my bed very much. Thanks to a stubbornness that doesn’t usually leave me indifferent, I resisted.

That night I slept with several sweaters, a coat, a hat, a scarf and gloves, as well as several socks and tights. Even though the sleeping bag was a mountain one and a mat insulated me from the cold that emanated from the ground, for some reason it was not enough. The contact area between the sleeping bag and the ground was practically frozen. To prevent my legs from freezing, I put some extra sweatshirts under them, “just in case”.

I had to face a slightly claustrophobic sensation as I closed the sleeping bag almost completely, leaving a small opening for breathing. If I had a sudden attack of anxiety and wanted to take a breath, a cold breeze would blow into the sleeping bag. I ended up resigning myself to my exhaustion, I prefer exhaustion to cold.

The next morning a beautiful, thick fog had hung over us. Although I had hardly slept a wink all night, I felt satisfied and proud of myself. However, I realized that a strange feeling had taken hold of me. I wasn’t cold, I wasn’t shivering, and my body wasn’t asking for movement like it had the night before. The cold was inside. It seemed as if it had seeped into my bones.

Soon after, on my way home, I saw a person who had spent the night at an ATM near my door. At that moment I realized that I would never be able to look at them with the same eyes. I felt a certain sadness. On the one hand, my night on the street had allowed me to feel a little closer to them, but at the same time I was aware of how far away I still was.

It cost me a hot shower, a cup of tea and a good time reading in my bed to get the cold out of my bones. Thanks to that little experience I am trying to get into the habit of saying thank you every time I open the door of my house, for my house; and every night when I go to sleep, for my bed. Generally we value too little what we have and too much what we miss having. They say that being grateful is one of the keys to being happier. Now is always the best time to start being more grateful.

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