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My friend Donald said to me one evening, "this is what I admire about you, whenever you say you're gonna to do something, YOU DO IT"! People always ask me how do I stay motivated? How do I stay encouraged? Whenever I am asked this question my answer is always the same. I tell them that I stay focused and motivated by remaining in an autopilot mode. However, when I ponder that question on a deeper spiritual level, I come to the realization that the true answer is much more involved than the "auto-pilot" response. Would you like to know what the real answer is? Keep reading.

For those of you that follow my writing, you may have read a story that I wrote entitled Zenobia's Life Lessons A True Testament of Love. In that narrative, I briefly tapped on the fact that I once lived in a shelter. How I ended up in a shelter in the first place was because my job downsized and relocated to Atlanta. My employer offered me the chance to keep my job by moving with the company, but unfortunately, they only offered financial relocation assistance to the higher ups. So there I was. Two young children to support and the future for employment looked grim.

I applied for unemployment and ultimately had to apply for Welfare for the first time in my life. During this time, I began to prepare my children to live in a place that in my opinion at the time, was the worst case scenario in the WORLD. My children were about 7 and 8 years-old. I knew how impressionable young children were at that age, so it was acute to their emotional development the manner in which I informed them of the news.

My children and I used to have what we called "family rap sessions". These sessions took place once per week, usually after dinner while sitting in a circle on our living-room floor, or during dinner seated at the kitchen table. My children grew to love and look forward to these sessions because it gave them the opportunity to vent to me anything, in any manner (remembering that I was still the parent of course), and I could and would not reprimand them for what we discussed afterwards. We simply would talk and I would offer suggestions and solutions for them to handle any of the small problems that a child would encounter at their young age. I learned years later that this was the enzyme for the open relationship that I maintain with them to this day.

This is when I broke the news. We would be moving soon so I paid careful attention when describing the shelter to them. It was significant that they quickly developed a positive outlook on where their new home would soon be. I centered their attention on a few of the key things that they could do while living there that I disallowed or did not provide to them while living in our home. I figured that this was a way to encourage them to become excited about our move.

I told them what happened with the job and that we had to move out of our apartment soon. After each of them asked me where we would be moving to, I described this wonderful place, where kids could all play together after school (my children were "latch-key kids", and weren't allowed to go outside after school having to come home and do homework). I described a place where they would get unlimited food and snacks, (I never bought sugary; drinks and limited the amount of snacks that I kept in the house). I told them how we each would have our own beds (they used to share a bed), and they would get the opportunity to meet and play with other boys and girls. At the shelter, bedtime was moved back an hour later to 10:00. If you have ever been 7 or 8 years-old, when a parent tells you that your bed and playtimes were going to be extended, that was more than enough reason to look forward to going to this place wouldn't you think?

The "Place". That is the code-name we agreed to use when speaking about the shelter (I trained my children to be really good at keeping a secret, and they were. I am sure that this was due to the fact when I was young, I was such a BLABBER mouth. As a result of growing up and understanding the significance of "keeping a secret", I developed an inbred disrespect for those who could or would not keep their mouths closed.). That was our code word used when we were discussing the shelter amongst people that we knew. I did not want anyone to know that we were living there. I was ashamed. During this time, no one ever found out. I was extremely mortified for being in that situation and I was still trying to come to grips with hitting rock bottom and having to go there in the first place, even though my children adjusted impressively well.

Until I had to experience life in a shelter as an eyewitness, I looked at those who lived in these alien places and wondered what happened in their lives that put them there? That would never be me, or so I thought.

Usually when you hear the word SHELTER, at least for me, I envisioned and related those places to the types of people that I expected to live there. People taking food from garbage cans, dirty, grimy people begging for money, bodies covered with paper bags while lying on park benches. Others sleeping in subways, walking the streets pushing shopping carts filled with what appeared to me to be nothing more than garbage. Not realizing that to the person pushing the cart, the contents often held their entire life. How do those sayings go? One man's garbage is another man's gold? Don't judge a man until you've walked a mile in his shoes? No truer sayings were ever penned.

I learned from this experience just because you live, and maybe even sleep in the street, does not necessarily mean that you are dirty or grimy for that matter. You just do not have a descent place to call home. The average person is just a paycheck away from being homeless anyway aren't they? That is what I was told most of my life.

Immediately, and I mean "as soon as I put my hand on the doorknob to open the doors" to the "Place", I began to see just how wrong my perception of the homeless and shelters really were.

"How did I get here?" I asked myself, as I led my children inside. I was neither dirty nor grimy. I did not beg others for money. My body was never covered with paper bags to shield the evening wind from my person, nor did I push a cart filled with what appeared to be garbage. I just did not have a place to live. I became one of the very people that I grew up loathing. I was one of THEM now. I had become one of the homeless. TALK ABOUT THE SHOE BEING ON THE OTHER FOOT!!!!

Life was always and continues to be my BEST teacher, coupled with final exams that are powerfully honest.

I remember for the duration of my stay at the "Place", especially around shower time, when my children would play and eagerly jump into the stall to wash their little bodies, I stood in the shadows as a guard ensuring no harm would come to my little life sources. Nonetheless, after the little ones were snuggled in bed, I too stood in the shower. However, I was not lathering my body to simultaneously relieve my mind of the tribulations that I contended with day-to-day as I should have. Nor was I luxuriating in the gratification that one feels as you allow the rhythmical current of warm water to cleanse away your "9 to 5" anxieties. Uh-uh. Not this time. Want to know what I was doing? Crying.

I knew in order for my children to continue to have a "positive perception" of the "Place", I had to become their compass. Subconsciously they received their direction of how they were supposed to feel about living in this new environment from my actions and/or reactions. Hence, I had to put on my game face. I had to be ready to play my "A" game "e-a-c-h"-and-"e-v-e-r-y" morning. Miraculously I trained myself to remain in autopilot mode. I did not allow myself to think about what had to be done. I just did whatever had to be done for the emotional betterment of my children. I did not want them to walk away from the "Place" feeling "less than" or "not as good as" because they had to live in a shelter. I did not want them to feel the shame and guilt that I was saturated with 24-7. After all, I was the adult. I was supposed to be able to rationalize my situation and handle it wasn't I? I was supposed to take charge, make everything better. Essentially, on the outside I performed as though my stay there was as gratifying as drinking an ice-cold glass of lemonade on a lazy, muggy Sunday afternoon. I should have won an Academy Award for my performance.

For weeks each night, while everyone was fast asleep, in the darkness, I stood. Barefoot, in the corner of a damp, rusty, stale smelling shower stall, swallowed up by my aloneness, I cried. I stuffed my washcloth deep inside my mouth to muffle my robust sounds of hopelessness. I would repeat this late night ritual for the duration of my stay at the "Place".

My children never knew the anguish and torment that I withstood because of our living arrangement until approximately several years later when I decided to once-and-for-all justify us living in a shelter. I was still harboring guilt for placing them in such a place. Even then, years later while sharing and clarifying my grief to them, I cried. This time we all wept together. They were growing up. They understood.

The real answer to how I stay motivated and encouraged is due to my perception of life. The way I perceive life is indicative to the way that I respond to life's challenges. During my stay at the "Place" life so affirmatively atoned me in an earth shattering way. Today, when faced with a situation, a task, or a problem that initially appears to be too much for me to handle, I am reminded of my stay at the "Place".

Today, I ALWAYS ensure that I have a job, I ALWAYS ensure that I have my OWN house or apartment. I ALWAYS try to exude a "rock-of-Gibraltar" persona when forced to mesh with life's ups and downs. I have to. There is no alternative for ME.

In conclusion, I believe if a person can live on the streets and survive off of the remnants found in the pit of a garbage can, if they can, make gold from discarded junk and generate heat to warm their bodies from plastic and/or paper bags on a day-to-day basis, my life and the slings and arrows and uncertainties that I must brave are as easy as taking candy from a baby. My perception in and of itself, is what motivates ME to survive.

How you view a situation dictates the outcome. Perception is everything. Whether you want to believe it or not, and everything is perception.

(c) 2005 by C.V. Harris. All rights reserved.

C.V. Harris pens with ease about topics others would rather forget. She has the unique capability of drawing insightful parallels from real life scenarios forcing one to think, think and re-think again. She lives in New Jersey with her two young-adult children Michael and Ashlei, and her favorite family member of all, her dog Mitzi. View her Blog at, or send an e-mail to her at She is currently working on her Memoir and a book of short stories.

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