I'm blessed to be able to sleep anywhere. I don't need a favorite pillow or a sleep number. I can sleep in a train, a plane and during a George Clooney movie. So I thought sleeping out in my car to raise awareness and money for the homeless in DuPage County would be easy.
I was wrong.
The cold was biting. Even with a down-filled winter coat, four layers of clothing and blankets, the initial warm and fuzzy feelings of doing this for a good cause started to dissipate pretty quickly. Last night my kids, 11 and 8, my 13-year old niece and I camped out in our cars with a few other families in the parking lot of the Muslim Society Inc. mosque in Glendale Heights.
We started the evening at the rally organized by Bridge Communities in Glen Ellyn that has raised more than $850,000 over the past ten years to provide transitional housing to the homeless and give them another opportunity in life. Hundreds of people from churches, high schools and just groups of friends participated in the rally and listened to stories of two young women who have been helped by Bridge from being homeless to having a full time job and their own apartment.
"Sometimes we are in such a rush, we are abrupt with store employees," said my friend Naazish, who had participated in SOS before and was our inspiration. "We never pause to think that perhaps this person is having a very rough day, month or year. Perhaps this person doesn't have a home to go to tonight."
This year, Naazish, Aliya and I along with other members of mosques in Villa Park and Glendale Heights rallied support by collecting online pledges from friends and family in the United States, Canada, UK, Oman and India totaling more than $3,000. And by actually sleeping out the entire night, we learned a lesson or two in gratitude.
The experience last night was very similar to fasting in Ramadan. One of the reasons for fasting is to feel for the needy who do not get to eat three meals a day. While fasting, we know that we can sneak in a corner and have some water or a cookie, but we know that God is All Aware. Similarly, last night there were at least three instances when I wished I could start the car for a few minutes to warm it up. But each time I thought it would defeat the purpose. The cars next to us might not have noticed, but we weren't doing it to impress them. And just like Ramadan, we might be really hungry, but we know that we will get to break our fast with our favorite foods in a couple of hours. Similarly, we were freezing, but we knew in a couple of hours we would be going to a warm home and snuggling into our comfy bed. Our gestures were hopefully meaningful, but symbolic. The true test is for those who have to sleep like this for weeks on end not knowing when they will have their own place. And the feeling of vulnerability and uncertainty can throw off even the most ambitious go-getter.
Initially the kids thought this was a fun sleepover. They did have fun in the beginning, but at around 11pm they fell asleep. Good for them, because I couldn't sleep. I might have napped for the first half hour, but since midnight, I was up.
I was miserable.
It was dark.
It was cold.
It was quiet.
And it was late.
Thanks to my friends in Malaysia, England, Pakistan and Qatar who Whatsapped with me and kept me going at the odd hours of the night. As the night grew colder and temperatures dropped to 34 degrees, I just couldn't wait for it to end. My nose and toes just wouldn't warm up.
The kids started fidgeting and talking in their sleep. My pre-teen who argues with me each morning when he leaves for school that he never feels cold finally got up and wore another jacket. My niece got up and asked, "If Daylight Saving Time ends tonight, does that mean we have to sleep an extra hour in the car?" Clearly, the fun was over.
Back home in the morning, they still said they would do it again next year. That means I have 364 days to find a nose warmer.
Kiran Ansari has lived in DuPage County for 8 years and would never have known about homelessness in her backyard if it wasn't for the work of Bridge Communities.