A few years before I started writing Painted Black, before I began caring about the issue of homelessness, I went on my first wilderness canoe trip in the Canadian Boundary Waters. It was a life changing experience that was in some ways the complete opposite of the world I witnessed on the streets of Chicago.
Or was it? Below is a paragraph I wrote about the experience:
Canoeing in the wilderness brings life down to its smallest basic components: weather, work, food, friendship, sleep, sun. How can I put into words all those small things that added up to such a big meaning for me? The crackle and brightness of the campfire at night, the singing of hymns around it; the laughing of loons and complaining of Canadian blue jays; the clarity of the constellations and the dancing of the Northern lights.
Surviving on the streets brings life down to its smallest components also. Where will you sleep tonight? What can you find to eat? When will you be able to take a shower? Even basic human needs like where can I use a bathroom? When life boils down to the quick like this, the smallest things can make a difference: the triangle of a sail against sun-warmed Lake Michigan, a peanut butter sandwich and a friendly conversation, the smile and simple greeting of a passing stranger.
Unlike the experience of living on the streets, though, my canoe trip left me with a renewed spirit, an increased hope that I was not alone in the world but accompanied by a higher power who cared about me.
Once you’ve been there, you’ll understand what I mean. You’ll understand how close you can get to heaven, and that eternity is here for the taking. That peace and love and quietness of mind you hope for in the kingdom of God is around us every day, if only we take the time to hear with our ears and see with our eyes and believe in our hearts.
Conversely, life on the streets can leave youth and adults who experience it embittered, hard-hearted and drained of all hope. When you experience only darkness, it is hard to believe there is any light.
That’s why organizations like Teen Feed and The Night Ministry continue their work, to fight against the darkness. And recently I found out about another program that knows how healing experiences like my Boundary Waters trip can be to the heart, mind, body and spirit. Chicago Adventure Therapy (CAT) offers kayaking, climbing, camping and other adventure experiences to at-risk youth. I wish I still lived in Chicago and could participate with this program in some way.
Using outdoor adventure sports such as kayaking, orienteering, cycling, and rock climbing, Chicago Adventure Therapy (CAT) helps under-served youth in Chicago have a lasting positive impact on their communities and become healthy adults by teaching effective social skills, increasing participants’ sense of possibility, and fostering a sense of empowerment and personal responsibility.