“The American dream is so often an exclusive dream, a dream offered to people who start further ahead in the race. You have read this before but the concept of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is only possible if you’re wearing boots.”
A message from Karen Cirulli, Co-founder of Aurora Commons
In a couple of weeks, I will be stepping out of my role as the Director of Community Engagement in order to build and pursue the part of me that is a massage therapist. I have been a massage therapist for 12 years and it is finally time to bring this to the forefront of my vocation. This transition in my life feels right and ripe with possibilities. Although I am taking a significant step back, I will still have a small handful of hours per month with the Commons in a supportive role.
I could not feel more confident in the hands that will take over my position as Director of Community Engagement. Marge Long is an exceptional woman not only with an immense amount of experience (she is over-qualified for the job!) but she embodies the philosophies of Aurora Commons. She is wise, humble and loving with a healthy dose of that east coast fieriness. I am truly excited for you to meet her. This is a huge change and it felt appropriate for me to say some words of reflection as I move on:
Dear Aurora Ave and Aurora Commons Community,
Nearly a decade ago I turned to you because you felt vaguely familiar causing my curiosity to be peaked. There was a draw toward you that I couldn't quite explain except I knew you would change me. Then, inevitably, under the stream of constant headlights, I fell in love with you and together we built a home.
You have shaped me in ways that have challenged ALL that I have known. You have been brutally honest by being yourself while inviting me to be myself. You have accepted me and let me into the sacred corners of your stories, into your motel rooms, your wheeled homes, your tents and under your awnings. You have invited me to your births and I have stood with you weeping at death. You fight hard to live and survive, you are stronger then I will ever be.
You have taught me and will continue to teach me how to hold extremes and let go of absolutes. This community of humans, all of you who enter the Commons, you enter knowing you are a part of something bigger. You are teaching this city how to BE WITH ONE ANOTHER regardless of status. THAT is this miracle, THAT is the magic that continues to draw me back to you. Although I am taking a very significant step back, you will remain my teacher and my heart. You will thrive, you will continue to challenge me and cause us all to wrestle with our own humanity while defying stereotypes and stigma. These words include everyone who participates in this community in any way - I hope you know how powerful you are. You are shaking your fist in the face of dehumanization. By participating you are changing the tide of disempowerment, you are revolutionaries.
I humbly accept the position of Director of Community Engagement at Aurora Commons with great anticipation and gratitude for the opportunity to be a part of this work and team. I refuse to accept the notion of stepping into shoes I could not, should not, nor would attempt to fill. I come into this sacred space bringing all of my humanity, with my few smoothed out edges and mostly my jagged edges in the hopes I will connect to other’s humanity. I have walked in the shoes many of our neighbors are in. I have been in recovery from drug abuse for over twenty-six years; I have been homeless and sold my body to feed my addictions. My hope is in the truth that we are all human, we are all in need of being loved, seen, and known for who we are and not what we do and that every human being is equally valuable. I believe these truths are what will enable me to step into this position with an attitude of acceptance, equality, and love. I am extremely grateful for the work Karen Cirulli has started and look forward to her continued guidance as I lean into all this next season holds. I have felt invited into this space with a warm an invigorating hug from all the leadership and staff and I am overjoyed to be a part of the goodness and the messiness that comes from being human together.
When I was asked to share my story, a lot of things flashed through my mind. "Wow, my community at the Commons thinks of me even when I’m out of sight?" Also, "they value my thoughts and feelings enough to ask me to share?"
Now let me tell you why I would be a tad taken aback by their request. I definitely haven’t always lived in what you would call the light, but I was always supported by people whom I am truly proud to call my friends at the Commons who never seemed to give up on me, no matter how dark my life had become, and even as I had begun to give up on myself. I had resigned myself to the fringes of society. I was a thief and in the throes of a deadly active addiction which has claimed many people that I care deeply for. However, no matter how dark things became I would show up at the Commons and I would be treated with respect, my opinions would be valued, and most importantly to me, I felt this overwhelming love.
Well, long story short, my life- (for lack of a more fitting word), caught up with me and I was sent to prison which didn’t help with the main problem that I had, which was how I felt about myself. So, I did my time, and when I was released, found my way back to drugs immediately, and so I spent some short stints in jail for probation violations: 30 days, 15 days, and so on, and the one thing that I feel I had during this time was that I was still accepted by my family at the commons and encouraged to keep fighting.
After one violation my Probation Officer Lillian, asked if I would like to try something different. She was talking about treatment. I was ready, really ready. A few weeks later, on a Monday, I received a bed date for Wednesday morning and I was told that this would most likely be my last opportunity as I’ve never really given Lillian an indication that I had any intention of getting clean before. I talked to Lisa about this on Tuesday at the Commons, her Karen and Jackie were so proud of me for taking this step and I felt myself that though I often thought about getting clean I had never moved it from my brain to my heart - I was even a little proud of myself even though I was still actively using. Well, here comes the scary part: I stayed up all night on Tuesday because I was afraid that if I slept, I would miss my Wednesday morning check-in for treatment. But, I guess I was so tired that I fell asleep early Wednesday morning, missing my transport to treatment and it was then that I really fell apart. I did not know my next move but I did know that the Commons was open, it was about 10 o'clock when I came in and made a cup of coffee.
I believe I always did a very good job of hiding the pain that I was in emotionally but when Lisa saw my face she read me like an open book, she knew something was wrong, and we began to discuss the situation. Lisa's suggestion was to get in touch with Lily and tell her what had happened, my suggestion was to not. But, I decided to make the call and got the voicemail. I was so overwhelmed- I decided to go outside to breath, have a smoke, think. Unbeknownst to me while I was outside Lily called back and somehow Lisa was able to get across to Lily but I was really ready and willing to try something different, ready for treatment and to give me another chance. While her and Lily were talking on the phone the police had seen me, knowing of my Probation Violation- they had pulled up to the Commons and I was taken into custody. Lisa ran out just as I was pulling away...
Thinking I was going to return to prison, I began to mentally prepare myself for the long road ahead. After a few weeks in prison, I got a visit from Lily explaining that I would in fact be afforded another chance. And also that the main reason for this opportunity was because of the support I received from the people I love and respect of Aurora Commons. Presently, I am five months clean, working as a painter and managing a clean and sober living facility and I owe a lot of this to the Commons- I would really like to convey this. There is a quote from author Hunter S Thompson and it goes, "he who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man" and I thought that very profound when I read it, but I think the flipside to that is "a good man gets rid of the pain of being a beast” that’s a lot more fitting of how I want to live my life and how our friends at the Commons do. Thank you.
Chris shared his story at the Aurora Commons benefit, Aurora Means Dawn in October 2017. He is starting a business painting houses inside, outside, and commercial. We're so excited for him. "Commercial and residential painting, no job too small! Interior, exterior, staining, detailed, color matching, woodwork & more. Fair Pricing, Call Chris: 253-733-9781. "
On a Sunny Sunday at the Commons last fall we set up the tv to watch the Seahawks football game. We lost but this matters only in the way all things matter — if one believes that sort of thing, myself? I scrutinize moments analyzing them for their worthiness. Moments calling for only our gratitude for their simplicity and joy I tout as lazy and look for something to dissect, to work out, to clean. But these moments pass like the breeze and surely they won’t come back.
In the moments asking for enjoyment I look for a clock to punch in — there must be a job needing worked, something somewhere needing to be mended. I escape the presence of being into a hell I create for myself. At the Commons there is always work to be done, dishes to be washed and like a heavily used home there is always laundry or sweeping to do, while the work of encircling our lives around one another often goes untouched. Sometimes I sweep up spilled crackers in order to avoid having to sit in the uncertainty, pain, anguish of another human being. Sometimes I turn away from the mess of broken hearts in order to put in a load of laundry. We are needy beings with never enough time to be met, I know this. Someone within arms reach is most assuredly hungry and must be fed. Yes, and yet humanity begs for moments of being, of pleasure, of delight, of being listened to. I often miss the real work at hand of belonging to one another and drown out my own loneliness and incapacity in chores and work and the busyness of attending to needs.
The Commons jolts me out of my chores and holds me fiercely in the face of the other. There is surely someone within arm's reach who needs the feel of pleasure, of the well-timed joke, of the squeeze to the shoulder full of affection. There is always work to be done, yes, but there is yet even more pressing the lonely human needing to be seen. I learn this poignantly on a summer evening as we sit together watching a football game. Jeremiah, a Commons volunteer, sits across the table passing conversation back and forth as easily as waves dance with the shore. People sink into couches and soft chairs as we drink coke and eat pizza and laugh at car commercials, yelling at the screen — pleasure simple as breath, as bread, as a need met. We all fall into delight and friendship and dare I even say love, despite the score on the screen not falling in our favor.
These bodies of being teach me. Andy who sleeps in a park tells me, “People forget that being able to sit on a couch and watch football makes you feel like you are a human, and I want to feel that again”. So we sit on soft places as the coke we drink bubbles up with something akin to hope and we find pleasure is not only for the privileged, the rich, but for the body of us all, even if it is just for a Sunday afternoon.