It’s April 2020 and many of us have started trying to make sense of our new normal. Tucked into our quarantine corners faced with the isolation, we looked inward and waited for our world to heal.
Like many singles, I experienced the gravity of the quarantine in a way that felt extra heavy. I thought how lucky couples must feel right now, people who lived with their families or even my friends who had at least one roommate to talk to. For a highly social butterfly like myself, this level of isolation was difficult to handle, so I soon found a friend or two I trusted and felt safe enough to form a “ quaran-team” with. We created a sacred bond and made a promise to self isolate, use all the precautions and only hang out with each other. This meant hope in the form of social interaction, affection. It meant increased mental health and hugs! I now had a few special buddies I could have occasional one on one dinners with, private art night gatherings or sleepovers. For me this quaran-team was a life saver.
One morning in April after one such gathering went late into the night, I found myself walking home across Melrose. The sun was in the sky, birds were chirping, flowers were blooming and the breeze seemed to kiss my cheeks as if I were God’s favorite child. With my cup full from all the love I received the night before I burst into song, my bliss too big to really contain. I started feeling extremely hopeful about this pandemic and getting through the other side. My song of choice was Bill Withers Lean on Me.
“lean on me when you’re not strong. I’ll be your friend. I’ll help you carry-on. For it won’t be long, till I’m gonna need somebody to lean on. ”
I belted my song out into the air while the street was lined with art saying “we’re all in this together.“ I felt optimistic. I felt hopeful. I felt that we were all connected and I felt joy. In that moment reality scratched like a record as I looked down to see a houseless man. His bald head was laying directly on the hot concrete, his lips look parched, dry and open. He was laying there on Melrose, one of the most expensive retail districts in the United States yet he didn’t have a proper shirt on his back nor was he wearing any shoes. Deflated, Bill Withers song quickly left my lips. My bubble was burst and I knew what I was singing in that moment was a lie. Who did this man have to lean on? Who is going to be his friend? If we’re all in it together then how come some of us have masks, antibacterial hand gel, more toilet paper than we can use for the next year and a half yet this man had nothing!? He was laying here unclothed, unfed, dehydrated and, worst of all, discarded by our society and unloved. The moment of bliss I was just experiencing instantly felt like a lie.
I got home, got educated and decided to do something about this. I realize that with the pandemic, and the loss of the ability to work many LA citizens were facing houselessness. Since Los Angeles is primarily a gig economy, many of us are just one lost paycheck away from houselessness. Numbers in the houseless population started to increase and continued to do so as the pandemic played out. But as the number increased, resources were pulled back. Some resources were reallocated to fighting the covid fight, some were simply retracted out of fear to interact with the houseless community who was suffering from the coronavirus and an accelerated rate compared to the rest of our society because they were vulnerable, unable to shelter in place, didn’t have access to protective wear like gloves and masks and didn’t even have access to soap and water. Our police force pushed them around the city which spread the virus further and for the first time the illusion of separateness began to slip. I could clearly see how we were connected, they’re suffering equaled my suffering, your suffering, our suffering. I wasn’t gonna let fear stop me from helping. There’s a few things that I know about myself for sure and the fact that I have a brave heart is one. That was the day that I made the commitment to make this Martha Project a real thing. This was no longer going to be for special occasions or feel good holidays. My heart and soul was committed to this project, watching it grow, pushing it forward and seeing the ripple effect of change that it would be in our world.
We are not OK until we are all OK.