Private graces in public spaces

by Gina Cook (as seen in 9.3.11 Kansas City Star FYI Section)

Here at Holy Family Catholic Worker House, we don’t eat a lot of fast food. We don’t like the way it’s produced, shipped or sold, or the way the profits exit our community so quickly. We prefer to eat at local restaurants when we do treat ourselves.

So the last place I thought I would end up on Ash Wednesday was in a line at the counter of a McDonald’s on Independence Avenue. Mark and I had just helped our friend Amir find a different bed, one that we hoped would be easier on his back. We loaded it into the big van and drove it to his rundown apartment.

Amir is lucky to have any apartment. He was homeless when I first met him. He’d stay in motel rooms until his Social Security check ran out, then stay at the shelter until the next one came. He hated staying in the shelter. One day, though, he realized that if he stayed there for a whole month, the money he saved would allow him to get an apartment. He hasn’t been in a shelter for months.

Amir is a generous man, so he wanted to treat us after we helped him move the bed. He took us to McDonald’s and wouldn’t take no for an answer. So much for Lenten fasting!

To my surprise, we had a great time. We saw a number of our friends from the street come in while we were there, and I listened as Amir chatted happily with them. People filled up on coffee and chicken nuggets. The food wasn’t great, but the companionship couldn’t be beat.

“Are you all religious?” a gentleman near us wanted to know. That began a conversation about religion and homelessness.

I read in Psychology Today that Americans are suffering from a lack of public spaces, and so they are constantly upgrading and expanding their homes to make up for that essential need. That’s right — affluent suburban Americans are suffering from a lack of public spaces.

But those of us who cannot upgrade our homes, those of us who perhaps have no home at all, will continue to make use of whatever public space we can find. That day, that happened to be a couple of swingy-style chairs at McDonald’s.

Gina Cook is one of 13 contributors writing the Faith Walk column. Reach her at


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