For the past six months, John Brett has been walking in the dark underbelly of San Francisco at night providing crisis assistance and the gift of listening to drug addicts, sex workers, those with mental illness and people down on their luck.
He's helped people who were contemplating suicide by passing car or police and has sat quietly with individuals who are struggling with life in various ways.
The experience has helped deepen his appreciation for the human condition. As much support as he has provided to them has been matched by lessons learned from these individuals.
Brett, who grew up on a wheat farm on Badger Mountain, is a student at the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, Ca. He says his experience in the arts and in social services in the Wenatchee Valley were a wonderful training ground for his work with the Night Ministry of San Francisco.
Brett was interested in theater at a young age and participated in Sherry Schreck's Short Shakespeareans. He spent a year as a Rotary exchange student in Chile, went to Dartmouth College and then returned to the valley to work for Catholic Family and Child Services and then directed the Chelan Douglas Volunteer Attorney Services for the local bar association.
He also spent time helping street kids in Mexico City get assistance before they acclimated to street life and succumbed to drugs, gangs or other ills.
He takes his inspiration from the Mary Oliver poem, "Wild Geese."
The closing verse reads:
"Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things."
I look out for those lost geese — people who do not feel part of the family," Brett told me. "I hope to provide a moment of human dignity to remind them to look up, drop their anxiety." He lets them know they are loved and accepted.
During his time on the streets of San Francisco, he found a certain kinship with those who are down on their luck, at the margins of society, not fitting in and in many cases barely surviving day to day.
Brett, who identifies as queer, knows about not fitting in. He was able to share important moments with people he worked with on the street. Success for some people was making it alive until the next morning.
That is a far cry from the reality most of us ever see in our lives, although Brett talked about meeting people from all walks of life who were on the margin, including former seminarians.
"We have a human condition that processes and reproduces systems of relationship that are broken," Brett told me.
He has found great meaning and satisfaction in applying the principles to life situations in the field. Next, he will serve a stint as the chaplain at a hospital in California.
It's good to be reminded of the struggles of those at the margins of our society and remember that, but for the grace of God, many of us could find ourselves in a similar situation.