Listening Post # 9: Thanksgiving

Hyacinth King

Gratitude takes many forms, has many names. One of them is Hyacinth King.

Hyacinth spent five years homeless, first living in a car and then on the streets of Philadelphia. A college graduate with a major in business, the beloved only child of devoted and supportive parents, Hyacinth nonetheless fell into the lonely regions of homelessness when she succumbed to an untreated mental illness.

Aware of her increased vulnerability as a woman in the dangerous environment of the streets, Hyacinth housed herself in a cardboard box with small peep holes cut into the sides. She describes sitting perched in her box on the streets of Philadelphia’s Society Hill, watching people enter their homes at the end of the day. She traced the occupants’ journey from room to room as they flipped on the lights, knew when they watched TV by the gray-green flickering thrown against the walls and out into her darkened street, wondered what they were watching, what conversations they were having. Shrouded by her cold cardboard shelter, Hyacinth imagined the warmth inside the homes, envisioned the  residents fed, warm, contented.

What response did these domestic scenes elicit in someone situated literally and figuratively outside the reach of the bare necessities of a home and heat?  Envy?  Anger? Resentment?  When asked, Hyacinth’s surprising response is immediate and genuine: she found herself flooded with gratitude. “I hoped they were grateful for everything they had,” she says. “And just in case they were not, I said a little prayer of gratitude for them.”

Such  radical gratitude is both profound and challenging.  Hyacinth continues: “I had no animosity, no resentment at all for their success. It’s what I was groomed for, too. I have never been envious of people who had more than myself.  It’s what I prayed for, too.”

Such a graced response is an antidote for the insatiability we consider normative in a society where we do not find it odd to call ourselves consumers, where we have become irrationally confused about the distinction between our wants and our needs. We need to want what Hyacinth so clearly does:  housing, jobs, food, education, safety and success for everyone. Everyone. And we need to cultivate  what she already possesses: a grateful heart.

Assisted first by Gaudenzia, and then by Project H.O.M.E., Hyacinth eventually was accurately diagnosed and treated. She now works full time tutoring adults working on their GEDs, and serves both on the Board of Trustees and as Co-Chair of the resident’s Advisory Committee at Project H.O.M.E.

Predictably, Hyacinth is, as she has always been, so very grateful. “It’s a blessing just to be here,” she observes. We should all appreciate whatever we have.”

From her lips to our ears.

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