It was the last seven days before the beginning of the month, which meant that the normally aloof hospitality room had detonated into a cacophony of noise; voices calling out to each other across the room, muddled music from the ancient TV tucked into an alcove high on the wall and the bone-jarring sound of hard plastic dominos being slammed down onto the unforgiving metal surface of the card table – “Domino, muthafucka!”
The heat was oppressive, bearing down on me like an interrogator moments away from their coveted confession. Sweat rolled down my back and beaded in the fine hairs of my upper lip producing a salty mustache that I could taste each time I smiled. Outside the shelter the city broiled, topping out at 95° but inside the 125 year old brick storefront it was a holocaust.
It was in this Purgatory that 150 men were packed, as close as lovers, the air fetid from the stench of unwashed crotch and armpits, the spice of anti-bacterial soap, cheap cologne and the wild, sour fecal smell of the mentally ill who’d been sleeping rough for years. I wove my way through the tapestry of foul air and flesh, squeezing my way between crackheads, AIDS patients, schizophrenics, prostitutes, alcoholics, pimps, cons, rapists and pedophiles to find myself on the other side of the room, glazed with the sticky sweat of those I passed.
I wavered for a moment at the edge of the crowd, the perimeter of my face humming with the threat of succumbing to the heat, when I felt the ghostly hands of Grace creep over me. It was not a profound feeling, no, rather one of quite certitude: I love them. For all of their flaws and short comings, for their undeniable humanity, and for the mere fact that we are, together, wading chest deep through the shit and piss of the world – I love them. They are wholly mine, and I theirs.