Authentic Eagles: Cody Nadeau on Realism and Community

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality  can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working towards being more authentic.

Cody Nadeau,  A&S ’15

Hi, my name is Cody.

I’ve always had a conception of the ideal community and how welcoming and supportive it could be, but at some point you realize there’s just too much to lose in idealism. It takes time to be kind to everybody you meet, it takes effort to learn the names of the people you interact with and it can be mentally exhaustive to show empathy for all of those you meet. An ideal community would probably require all of these things at the minimum.

To me, these standards were simply unrealistic, so I started my career here at BC three and a half years ago not terribly concerned with furthering an ideal community. Sure, I was polite to the people around me, but for the most part I just kept to myself and focused on the things completely within my control. At the end of the year I found myself doing well in classes and found a small group of people to hang out with. That was my freshman year, guided by realism, and I really didn’t see all that much wrong with it.

Sophomore year rolled around and the BC core landed/forced me into a PULSE classroom. It was the opportunity to bang out both the philosophy and theology requirements in one class… a no brainer. I chose the Pine Street Inn as my service placement. Pine Street is a homeless shelter that services hundreds of men who come in and out every day to receive a meal, a bed, or in some cases various counseling services. Realistically, I knew my service there was not going to end homelessness and the tasks I performed weren’t geared towards getting people jobs or helping them to fight addiction. It seemed all I could do was assist the counselors when I was asked to do so and hope I could get an A out of it.

One of my little functions there was to help check the guests in and out using a computer ID scanner. Everyone that planned on spending the night at Pine Street had to get an ID so the shelter could manage its population. One day during second semester I was working the scanner when I saw a man walk in whom I had checked in two nights before. For whatever reason, his name had stuck with me and I said… “Hi Robert.” That was it, nothing more, nothing less. He looked at me, confused as to whether or not those two words were directed at him. I scanned him in and, although he still hadn't responded, I said, “Have a good one Robert.” He realized then that I was indeed talking to him and he smiled just a little bit and remarked that he was surprised I remembered his name.

Later that night I got off the scanner and was helping pass out bed tickets when I saw Robert motion me over to where he had been sitting. I went over to him and without any introductory small talk he said “That was the first time anybody had used my name in 64 days.” Then I was confused. How can someone go 64 days without being addressed by their name, and how was he so precise in his statement. So I asked him, "64 days”? He reaffirmed his previous statement and continued to explain. It turned out he remembered 64 days because he had been exactly 64 days sober. 64 days ago, Robert told me, he woke up in the emergency room at Tufts Medical center. He had been brought in after he was found in a public restroom the day before unconscious with a needle in his arm...it had been Heroin. The last time he had heard his name was when he checked himself out of the Hospital and had to sign the release form.

I still didn’t quite understand how 64 days could pass without him hearing his own name, but he went on to tell me what it is like to live on the street, in and out of shelters. He said people would attempt to avoid any kind of contact with him and, if forced to interact, they would call him a “bum” or “piece of shit,” or his personal favorite, “get a job.” On the streets he didn’t have a name, he was not a member of any community, he had become sub-human. My response was simply silence. I couldn’t think of anything to say and Robert recognized this. He interrupted my silence with, “Anyway, thanks for using my name. It really made me feel normal for a change.”

This was the moment I realized how realism can be a dangerous policy. Realism reminds us of the absurdity in attempting to learn the names of homeless people in Boston. In fact, realism allows us to accept homelessness and the resulting ostracism from the human community. It helps us to keep the dream, of achieving individual riches and fortunes, alive. Wherever there is the opportunity for one person to gain huge fortunes, there must also be people who face extreme hardship and loss. I saw that realism was failing us (myself especially) as a community of human beings. From that day on, I decided to allow myself to be a little more idealistic. I tried to remember, and of course use, as many people’s names as possible, at the shelter and here at BC.

I have found that everyone, from people who are homeless to our classmates, enjoyed being called by their name. It is like a personal invitation to join a community every time I use a name. Maybe using people’s names doesn’t seem world changing to you, but to me, I can say that I now believe it to be the foundation of the ideal community. Sure, it may still be unrealistic to get to know everyone or to learn everyone's name here at BC. And in trying to do these things I might lose time that could have been spent preparing myself as an individual. But if those are the stakes, I want to lose more time. I want to say, "screw realism." Robert taught me the value of attempting to find or form a welcoming community wherever you find yourself. I have a little more than 6 months left here at BC and I can’t wait to lose as much time as possible.

Hi, my name is Cody, and I’d like to get to know yours.

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