For this story to make any sense you must go read part 1 of the "Missional Journal"
Today I set out for my last few hours of intentionally getting out of my comfort zone. I was focused on that as my goal today. Last time I realized that even though I went out into a world I knew nothing about and talked with people I never would have talked to, I managed to create again a new comfort zone. I could always leave when I wanted to or retreat to my book when there was nobody talking to me. I even used the game of chess as sort of a crutch to get conversations up and going. Today was going to be different. Today instead of being able to leave when I wanted I was going to walk. Walking was for a lot of reasons. First I didn’t want to interact with the homeless at an arm’s length. I didn’t want to drive in and drive away as if everything I just spent time doing was beneath me or as if I wasn’t one of them. Secondly walking would give me a better understanding of what it meant to be homeless. It was freezing outside and I knew it when I decided to walk. I could no longer just easily get out of the situation I put myself in. I had invested thirty minutes of walking to get there. It took the same amount of time to get back and that would act as a deterrent. Lastly walking would put me into the real world of the homeless. The shelter is just a place that some homeless seek to take refuge. They don’t actually live here. I wanted to be as authentic as I could be. So I set out on foot.
One thing I decided not to bring with me on my trip this time was a book. I didn’t want to have that safety blanket of things to do when I was feeling uncomfortable. Not having anything but tons of layers of clothes on and the intention of getting to know some people that on a normal day I would never even come in contact with was my goal. Leaving the hill felt gratifying. I stepped out into a world that wasn’t protective of me in fact it was the opposite. I was risking something coming down this time. Not only physically was I risking something but I was also risking being changed. My safety was now not fully in my hands. I started walking down Murfreesboro road and seeing cars pass me by. I knew right away by the way people looked at me that I looked like I fit in. I had a hook up and layers. Nobody but a homeless person would be walking down the street on a day as cold as this. It became very clear to me soon enough that although Google Maps placed the shelter at just under two miles away from Trevecca, I had not taken into account what two miles on the poorest part of Murfreesboro road was like. I imagined it as a walking track with buildings and people around it. Quickly I began to realize that although there is a sidewalk, this part of the road is not meant for walking on. My first interaction with people on this journey came not too far from the school. I was walking and a group of people standing at a light pole started shouting at me. At first I thought to do what I would normally do in this situation which would be keeping my head down and continue walking fast! I realized however that I had intentionally put myself in this situation so that I could interact with people like this. I began walking closer to the people shouting at me so that I could make out the words they were saying. The words “I got something for you” became the dominant phrase that I heard. At this point I became nervous. He obviously did not have a gift for me. I felt as if whatever he had for me I did not want. I turned away saying “I’m good” and kept walking. The shouting got louder at first and then it stopped when it was clear that I was not interested in anything they could have for me. I started reflecting on what had happened here. I thought for sure that they were trying to sell me drugs. I couldn’t be sure and since I never have bought drugs before I guess I may have been somewhat judgmental of them. I thought of this as my first failure to interact with people. It was at this point that I realized just how difficult it was going to be for me to get up the nerve to walk up to people on the street and talk with them. The weather was not helping the matter either. I knew if I could just make it inside the shelter then I would be more comfortable to sit and talk with people. I kept walking and then that thought hit me again. Be intentional. The goal is to get out of my comfort area. I had made the shelter my new comfort area. How I longed to be sitting across the table in a warm room playing chess with just about anyone in the world, but I knew my mission was different this time. I wanted to go deeper. Soon enough I came to an older man sitting on the side of the road alone. The fact that he was alone made him easier to approach I think. He was an African American man with a beard and a hat on. I nervously introduced myself to him, but not in a way that suggested I was going to stay long. I told him my name in an attempt to learn his. He told me his name but I didn’t actually hear it and I was too uncomfortable to ask him to repeat it. I had come up with a plan to talk to him about the weather but that plan only worked for one sentence. It was cold and we both knew it. There wasn’t much else to say. I managed to get a line out before I left him awkwardly, “try and stay warm” I said. As I continued down the road I realized that this time I hadn’t failed as much as with the group by the pole. Still I left feeling like I had only accomplished being an awkward stranger to the man. So far if the mission was to develop relationships with people I was failing, I do realize though that if my mission was to completely get out of my comfort zone I was succeeding. There was something very uncomfortable about reaching what I thought to be the midway point between the school and the shelter. I thought in this moment that not only was I not there yet but that I would have to walk back the same way and it would probably be a lot darker. I walked past a memorable place from when I was a child. Cameron Middle School, it brought back awful memories of what being bused into the school from an hour away in sixth grade was like. It was interesting because back then I was being forced to come out of where I was into this community, but now I was choosing to come out of where I was into this community. In some sense I felt as if I had come full circle. I began walking further and noting the heavier traffic. I was walking near an interstate ramp and there weren’t any people around, just cars. It became clear when I was back into the homeless area near Sixth Avenue. There were people although none that I recognized sitting around smoking and walking. I didn’t talk to them because by this point I was ready to be inside. I think there although I overlooked part of my mission, I had at least begun to understand the mindset of a homeless person. Stopping to talk to people in the snow meant longer in the cold and less time in the shelter. So I didn’t stop. As I walked inside I looked around hoping to see some people from my last visit. I recognized a few people that I had seen but nobody that I had talked to. I thought about trying to sit and do the same thing this time as I did last time when it came to meeting people. I decided against that. I was pretty excited however that I felt like I fit in more. I just walked miles to get here in the cold. I just didn’t carry any possessions. I was free to do what I wanted. I sat down in an empty chair and sort of looked for people that were attentive. Most people looked very intentionally busy. Nobody wanted to make eye contact with me it seemed because that might lead to conversation. I was not going to give up so easy though. I didn’t want to go around the room asking everyone to talk to me but I didn’t just come all this way for nothing either. I wanted results. After all I needed to write a paper about it. That was the kind of thinking that I let creep into my mind. As I began to refocus I thought, I am here to get out of my comfort zone and not to worry about if I come off as normal. I began to very discretely walk around until I found an opportunity speak with an older man. I asked him how he was doing and introduced myself. He replied fine and looked the other way. The gesture was an obvious attempt to get me to go away. I felt like I had failed again. Uncomfortable, I walked away thinking to myself am I ever going to make today succeed? I felt like maybe the chess idea wasn’t such a bad one at this point. I sat at the table and began to play with a very strange looking man with the most enormous nose. After he beat me numerous times I thanked him for the games and walked away. It was getting dark out and I feared walking home. I also decided that maybe I would have more success on the street than in the shelter. I took off on my way home trying to find some way to redeem my day. I was significantly more uncomfortable and nervous now that it was dark outside. As I walked past the public housing I kept my head down. I didn’t feel comfortable at all talking with strangers in the dark on the side of the road. I picked up the pace deciding that I have had enough for one day and started thinking about Trevecca. I felt like a failure as I arrived on campus but also I felt relieved. I was back. I went out and tried and I made it back. Angry with myself I started to go over everything that happened and I realized that it isn’t as easy as just walking out there no strings attached. I had left with the goal of getting uncomfortable and I had succeeded. Somehow though I really failed at what in my heart I wanted to do, which was provide some form of service to the people I interacted with. When it was all said and done, I knew I had much more work to do to become the person I wanted to be. I guess I never really expected in eight hours to become some sort of super street evangelist. I did find out more about myself and what I was willing to do. I was willing to go out there and be uncomfortable for at least some time. I know now that this was only the starting point. I have a lot of growing to do and I am ready to do it.