A drum, a beat, a rhythm, Eric plays his music and composes a song we all need to hear.
In our typical posts we do not include a preface, yet in order to provide a more holistic picture of our new friend, Eric, it felt necessary to incorporate this foreward. Late in September, we were serving lunch in the park when Eric walked over and started a conversation with us. The conversation consisted of Eric asking us about our lives, what we do, why we help at the park, and then we turned the questions to Eric. In his typical fashion he shared how thankful he was to be in such a beautiful area with picturesque scenery and nice green spaces.
Since that initial conversation, Eric represents a ray of sunshine every time we see him. He is a man of mystery and his story neglects to reveal the entirety of his life, but each time we conversate with Eric we learn something new. Eric’s story is one that is revealed in many different ways and not all at once. He shows us his friendship by letting us know more about what makes his story unique every time we speak. His words are kind, his heart is pure, and he makes sure everyone around him has their needs met before he even pauses to consider his own. Thank you Eric, for showing us how to be present and to know the value of remembering a friend’s name. We hope Eric’s story can serve as a reminder for each of us to look at life from a selfless perspective and to understand that life does not need to look conventional for a person to be happy. Eric reminds us that homelessness is not always a story of sadness, but one of hope.
Eric shared part of his journey to our area and his connection to his family. “I grew up north of here with two loving parents and my three siblings. I am the oldest. I support my family and they support me. They always answer my phone calls. They know I'm active and they know how I spend my money. They know my lifestyle and I love them so much.”
In revealing his pathway to homelessness, Eric explained how his life has changed over the last couple of years and his thoughts on the purpose of the lives we choose to lead. “I spent much of last year incarcerated, but all of the charges were dropped and rightfully so at that. After that, I lived in the Salvation Army in another Wisconsin town for three months. I was working two jobs and had more than enough money for myself. I was successful, but it wasn’t the type of success that aligned with my pursuit of happiness. Everyday we are in the pursuit of happiness. I believe people work for a lot of different reasons. Maybe it’s to keep a rhythm or just to keep yourself occupied. Of course people are concerned about money, but then they compare themselves to others and they think they need a certain apartment or a certain kind of car. How do you know when you have enough money? There has to be a definition of success for every individual. I don’t compare myself to anyone else. I can stand on my own two feet and I look for places that I can be useful. Right now that means cleaning up the city parks. I make sure that the parks are clean for everyone.”
Eric discusses the physical, emotional, and mental aspects of survival when experiencing homelessness. “In March, I took a kayak and a dinghy down the Mississippi and ended up in La Crosse. My own selfish desires wanted to take me toward warmer climates, but I found a greater need in La Crosse. There are some parts of La Crosse that can be hard on a person. This colder climate can be expensive, not financially, but on your mental health. Every day, I am constantly stimulated and focused on survival. I need to find food and shelter. It has made me start to look at life a little bit differently. I never sleep in the same place. Sometimes I hang my hammock up to get off the ground. Other times, I camp under a bridge or other places to get out of the wind. My sleeping bag keeps me warm and my resourcefulness helps me survive Wisconsin weather. Winters are hard, but it’s doable. I try to eat healthy and continually move my body. I stay focused on the task at hand. I am not the only one in this position and there are others that do not have their needs met. I come to the park and see my people, well they are not just my people they are our people.”
Eric’s heart sings when he thinks about the moments where happiness lives. “I love snowboarding and I love music. I hope to pursue a career in either someday. I play djembe African hand drums and I am the happiest when I am listening or playing music with my friends. Music is great because people love to get together and listen to good music. It motivates you. It lifts your spirit, it lifts all of our spirits.”
A message Eric believes remains important to us all resides with what unites us as human beings and how we must strive for connection. “We need to spend time with them [our neighbors], even if it's just a couple of minutes. Make eye contact and remember someone’s name. It goes so far. I try to remember everyone’s name and it means a lot to me when people remember my name. A lot of times, people think that homelessness is a crime and it’s not. My life is not a crime. Ultimately, I want people to hold onto their faith. This is not the end. Wake up tomorrow with full strength because people care. I have all of my needs met so I am just trying to help others where I can. I share my abilities and I help teach others how to be resourceful. It's not just us, we need to think global and act local. It is important that we take care of each other and welcome everyone. Keep your faith and be what you want to be. The support will be there.”
Artist’s Note: Eric shared his wandering soul with us. He shared his passion for music and how his resourcefulness has led him to battle the elements every day. Eric is a dandelion going where the wind takes him and letting others get a glimpse of his kindness.