Has anyone noticed how in Dallas high-society, people use the phrase "lunching"? As in, "Where are you lunching today?" I could be wrong, but I think I "lunched" today. I don't think I'll be invited to go lunching again soon. You'll agree after reading what happened.
Around noon I got a text message from a friend inviting me to a last-minute lunch with her and a mutual friend at Bistro 31.
You may not know it but there were already two things wrong with this scenario:
- Bistro 31 is the kind of restaurant you only see on the cover of Modern Luxury or Paper City. You aren't even sure it actually exists. It's an elusive hot spot in the heart of upscale Highland Park Village.
- I looked like someone you would only see on the cover of a brochure for The North Texas Food Bank. Having spent the morning outside in South Dallas, I was in my “office attire,” i.e. shorts, t-shirt, tennis shoes, and slicked-back hair in a ponytail. No, it’s not hair gel; it’s just my natural head oil.
Two years ago, I would have just ignored an invite like this, responding two hours later with a casual, “Just got this. Been reading and praying this whole time.” I would have avoided this scenario at all costs.
Big Mike, and me in my "office attire"
But now that I’m so “mature,” I bit the bullet and headed to Highland Park Village. Y’all, to say this place is obscure is an understatement; I saw no sign, nothing to indicate the location.
Once my friend told me where to go, I told the hostess I was meeting people upstairs. She looked at me confused, like maybe I got lost on my way to the bus stop nearby, but kindly said, “Well, the upstairs is closed for a private event, but I’ll show you the way.” Halfway through, it was obvious she was really just giving me a tour to appease me.
When we got upstairs, she gently pointed to the right and said, “See, it’s closed. The only thing happening up here is a private event in that room.” And she escorted me back downstairs, stopping me on the sidewalk before going back inside alone.
A few minutes later, I heard back from my friend that the lunch was indeed the event in the “private” room upstairs. Seriously?
So I mustered up the wee bit of dignity I had left, walked back into the restaurant, up the staircase, and peeked into the private room on the left. The hostess was right about one thing: it really was an event. My eyes scanned the room: white table cloths, wine glasses, formal place settings, and a bunch of people looking quite lovely already seated and chatting.
I recognized the man at the head of the table; he was one of the two friends I thought I was meeting for my casual work lunch. As I walked in, he stood up, the room became silent, and he introduced me to the seated group. All eyes were on me. I could not escape the reality of how I looked and where I had come from.
I thought back to this morning in South Dallas, when a homeless friend shared with me that he really wants to find a job, but feels like he isn’t presentable enough to do so. He even asked me if I noticed that he had been wearing the same clothes for weeks. A shower, shave, and appropriate clothing were his goals before applying for a job, and we tried to figure out a place he could go shower.
It's rare that something one of my homeless friends in South Dallas shares with me also becomes my own personal experience so quickly. This man's fear of feeling out of place, or like he didn't belong, or wouldn't be accepted, actually became my reality two hours later.
I wish I could tell you that I faced and conquered this fear today; but it's more that my fears were exposed. Nobody likes to feel out of place -- not me, not the homeless.
The difference is that my friends who are homeless experience this feeling every day -- they quite literally are "out of place" in our society. The sidewalks weren't made for sleeping; job applications demand a home address and phone number; and our culture expects a clean, appropriately-dressed person to show up, whether it's to a job interview or to lunch at Bistro 31.
it's the homeless that model a new way of life for all of us. It's showing up even when we feel uncomfortable. It's being okay with feeling out of place. It's acknowledging fear is a part of everyone's reality, and being present anyway.
*Written with Elissa Romines.