The desire to understand street chaplaincy led Jackie Hider to the Tenderloin in 2011. She was in a Buddhist chaplaincy training program. She wanted to explore the possibility of Buddhist chaplains practicing the principles of Buddhism as they walked with people experiencing homelessness. She was looking at how the Buddhist teachings can contribute to street chaplaincy. Jackie got to know a number of organizations, one of them being Faithful Fools, where she ended up volunteering for twelve years and wearing many foolish hats. While Jackie has gone back and forth between San Francisco and San Diego over the years, she has never really left as her presence is constantly felt.
I met Jackie in 2019 when we were both on the Fools board and then reconnected in 2021 when I joined the team. Chatting over a sandwich and potato chips in front of City Hall, I was able to experience for myself why Jackie was beloved by many and regarded as a fountain of energy and wisdom. She has pursued many paths in deepening her spirituality and at present, her ongoing teacher is her three years of living with ALS. When Jackie and I recently over Zoom in March, she shared that her physical energy was at a 3.5 out of a 10 but her spirit was eager to share her insights on how the Faithful Fools influenced the way she looked at the world.
Jackie regards her time with the Fools as a whole other movement in her life where she has been able to gather all of the things she has done in her life, find out her strengths, and figure out where she has been. She realized that her over ten years of connection with the Fools was like being given an incubator to work on all parts of herself. She identified four areas that impacted her the most:
First, Jackie experienced the meaning of common humanity, a lot of it from spending a lot of time on the streets and getting to know people that most would not usually associate with. She felt touched when she was invited by the family of a drug dealer who was killed at Civic Center to sit with them and mourn as they sat in a vigil. Jackie also became more aware of the general tendency to take on the mantle of a white savior even out of good intention to protect someone from immediate danger; she learned the value of expressing her concern and leaning into organized communities already in place and better equipped to support one of their own.
Jackie LOVED people and LOVED adventures, especially with students who came on immersions. Above on the left she is with a flock of Fools on a 7-day street retreat. On the above right she is dancing to the music with St. Ignatius students. Below she is front and center with students from St. Ben's and St. John's Universities in MN as we took them to see the elephant seals along the California Coast.
Second, she became nimble and learned to take action even when she had no idea how to start. When she was entrusted with the care and accompaniment of individuals who needed a high level of support, she not only learned the logistics of meeting their needs but also not to turn away from suffering.
Third, in a space where there were no formally defined titles and roles, Jackie discovered that one of her greatest strengths was connecting with people. She served as a chaplain at General Hospital and worked closely with the Night Ministry, but was always chit-chatting with anyone in between to figure out what was going on and finding ways to share information. This is something she continues to do with her ALS group today; she appreciates having figured out this gift and have it be valued.
Lastly, Jackie uncloaked her capacity to love and express it fully. One day in the company of students during immersion at the Fools she blurted out, “You are all really easy to love!” She felt exposed for a second, but something happened in her body that she could start saying she loves people. This was the beginning of stopping to protect herself and allow vulnerability, which was a very big deal. She said the Fools wore down her resistance and she can express her love all the time now.
The last time we connected in the spring, Jackie measured her energy in spoons. Her reflections about her time with the Fools came from a space of liminality, particularly from having a serious disease that was progressing and the uncertainty it brought. She constantly wondered how she should prepare herself – definitely not with a lot of suffering, anxiety, or worry – but preferred to hang on to the curiosity and joy for life that she’s always had. Jackie ended our conversation saying that while our chat didn’t change the number of spoons of energy used, her heart was filled as it got every time with seeing Carmen or connecting with other Fools.
We feel the same way, Jackie. We love and miss you! Rest in eternal peace and foolishness.