In the autumnal sun about five years ago, a young man sat quietly by the side of a building – listening. The people walked around him, and may have wondered what string of decisions led to them lying about on the street. These were people headed to Market Street, hoping to avoid eye contact or eager to reach their personal refuge. Wandering the tenderloin neighborhood, he instead heard people share remedies and touch base on the community proceedings. Outside a local store he heard two men swap stories from the past week, and walking back he heard a group sit around their makeshift table to play a game. People all around found themselves in need, but many humored one another and addressed each other by name.
In those days I was a bright eyed college student in a world limited only by my own efforts. I was entrenched in a world of deadlines, grades, and checklists that dictated how good I was. This was the mentality to which I tied to, and one that was shattered by discovering what defined a community. The iconic Faithful Fools purple building is a stark reminder of the efforts they make and a beacon to those seeking their acknowledgement. It is a home, an unconventional lecture hall where we often learned from one another, and a shrine to those who choose to see life differently. I joined them unsure of myself, but aware that the world could be better. After reflecting on the street retreat, I realized how little we address those labeled as mendicant or ostracized when we walk past them in the street. The notion that they were any less for living lives more varied or difficult than ours was brought out into daylight and questioned boldly. I met many of these people in the hallowed halls of the Fools, and learned to be foolish with them. They spoke of becoming, of being, and having been. Each person had a story unlike my own, and they were a beautiful tapestry that many forget to admire. Today those moments highlight the important effect the Faithful Fools had in their community. During our dinner or discussion preparations, I had a chance to learn from those on the streets about community and what it meant to be there for one another. Before the Faithful Fools this mostly meant giving to others as a service, whether that was food, clothes, or money. The Fools made me understand palpably that while these were crucial elements to our survival, there were so many facets to the human experience, many of which were often overlooked. Their compassion extends beyond giving, and encourages us instead to become a member of our community.
After graduating and performing other duties for a few years, I returned to this community and reflected once more on what it means to truly help others. I have rekindled the idea that we as a community act together, and to help others is to help us all. As an aspiring physician I have delved into a myriad of enriching opportunities and had my fill of science and decorum. None have quite opened my eyes to the truth and given me a motivation quite like the Faithful Fools. My time with them, short as it may have been thus far, is one I cherish if not for its good memories but for its impact. It was my first experience with an undeniable force of change for the disenfranchised and a voice for those with stories to tell. At community dinners, I was honored with the chance to move from table to table, offering food in exchange for smiles and stories. Most important of all, they allowed the people there to be truly themselves, to express ideas, and partake in the world at large once more. In the moments of reflection and amazement that hung in the air after the film titled Romantico, and in the feeling of solidarity holding a purple thread connecting us all – I found a magnanimous love. It is no surprise then that the art in the Faithful Fools home reflects the amazing people that want to reach out to those around them and live life to the foolish.