by Michael Lesser
I do a lot of driving around the city in our Free Food Van picking up and dropping off donations. I grew up in New York and have logged a lot of miles and hours commuting around the NY metro area.
I drive slow and steady, like I’m not in a rush even though I am.
I stop for the pedestrians in the crosswalk despite the honking and sometimes shouting from the drivers behind me. I can feel the hairs on my neck, the rush of adrenaline that taunts me to match or exceed their intensity with a reply, but I don’t. I drive a big van with lots of blind spots that has a new sign, “Free Food Harlem” on the doors.
With several of us driving throughout the week, often the mirrors are out of adjustment and a few times were completely missing. First the driver’s side mirror disappeared overnight then soon after replacing it the other one departed!
Changing lanes can also be a challenge, and I’ve gotten yelled at, honked at, and intentionally cut off and brake-checked by irate drivers in a hurry. But still, I stay calm. I smile and apologize if I have the opportunity.
I’ve discovered that by going slow, allowing drivers to merge in front of me, giving pedestrians the right of way and time to cross, I get places faster and with less stress.
And I feel better. This was not always the case.
After college while commuting to work on my motorcycle, it was like a high-stakes, high-stress video game weaving in and out of cars, taxis, buses, and trucks.
By the time I got to the office I was so amped up, no coffee was required to jumpstart my day. My officemates and coworkers just shook their heads.
I’ve heard many versions of horrific motorcycle accidents from supervisors, parents, and concerned friends pleading for me to stop riding. My addiction to speed, motion, and conflict wouldn’t allow me to hear them. I wasn’t ready to give it up until one day something changed.
Now I’m totally content and at peace to be lumbering around the streets in our big Free Food van.
During the last Art of Addiction session with the Exodus Alternatives to Incarceration participants, the concept that addiction is a spiritual path was introduced.
It’s controversial and produced a lively and loud discussion. The concept we’re presenting is that underneath the shame and punishment society puts on human behaviors of addiction and obsession is their power, and when channeled into purpose and creativity can be a force for good and positive change.
On a recent Friday, Exodus was closed for an administrative meeting. It was also our Free Food prep day when typically 7-10 of the Exodus volunteers help wash, chop, peel, cut vegetables, and chicken to get ready for cooking enough food for 500-600 meals on Saturday. I’ve come to depend on them and in a way, they’ve come to depend on Food Prep Day as a place to put their energy into service.
I posted an invitation on our Exodus AOS text thread to remind them about the practice of channeling energy into service and creativity and doing something each day to encourage positive change in how they think and reflect on their lives.
Some saw my invitation and showed up for prep day even though the facility was closed and I’m happy for them, but many did not come.
I could feel my disappointment but also knew from experience that I couldn’t rush the process.
During the next week’s Art of Soulmaking session, the discussion was even livelier and more intense. People who had been quieter with sparse remarks and reflections, opened up and others listened with curiosity and then added their own perspectives. The wisdom in the room was so palatable that I had to write down some of what was said.
“It takes time to become a king.”
“Don’t let them knock off your crown.”
“Slow money is the best money.”
I could feel their hunger and excitement for the material being presented and also that they missed being in the environment where they could see and feel and acknowledge their own form of brilliance.
During this past year-and-a-half of volunteering with Free Food Harlem, I had the opportunity to focus the impetus of my addictive and rebellious nature into cooking community meals, teaching kitchen skills training, facilitating AOS classes, and writing. Instead of seeking immediate relief through self-soothing addictive behaviors and destructive pursuits, I got more of me.
When driving in traffic, I still feel the urge to get ahead of the car next to me and sure when I see or hear a potent sport-bike, I still feel the adrenaline rush of the ride calling, but also know it’s not for me anymore.