Cooking With the Fallen One’s Damien

Cooking With the Fallen One’s–Damien

As I reflect on my life. . .

I still feel like the least of God’s holy people. .

I realize that I am still struggling

with the same problems I had all those years ago.

I am still searching for inner peace and unity

and a resolution to my internal conflicts. .

So, ” who will rescue me?”

“Thanks be to God

through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Henri Nouwen

All around there are divisions, anger, hate. More tents, more suffering on the street. I look into the eyes of people each day who are trying to simply get some food, with no hope of housing, a place to stay, they are friendless, they are lonely.Each day I see the ghosts of the present, become the ghosts of the past, and the future seems bleak.  I talk to Bob whose leg is infected and refuses to go to the hospital, I talk to Sean, a young guy, who struggles  with being transgender, as he sleeps on the street, using dope to simply survive the day; people mistreat him, they make fun of him, he does not know which way to turn. And I asked myself the question: “Why even go on living?” “What purpose is there in life?”   Like my guys I have few friends who listen, who even care enough to be present with me when I am struggling. I give of myself day in and day out–to what end. So why go on?  And the words of Henri Nouwen echoes my reason:

“God says, “I am offering you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
“Choose life.” That’s God’s call for us, and there is not a moment in which we do not have to make that choice. Life and death are always before us. In our imaginations, our thoughts, our words, our gestures, our actions … even in our non-actions. This choice for life starts in a deep interior place. Underneath very life-affirming behavior I can still harbor death-thoughts and death-feelings. The most important question is not “Do I kill?” but “Do I carry a blessing in my heart or a curse?” The bullet that kills is only the final instrument of the hatred that began being nurtured in the heart long before the gun was picked up.”
Henri Nouwen

One of the criticisms I receive is my “boundaries”. I laugh, because I look at back at the transformation of my way of working going back to Hollywood. Damien, 14, was a key figure on that journey. As I look back through the mist of time, I see his face, his smile, his compassion, his pain, and those mists of the past become the mists of the present. Damien’s faded photo on my wall speaks to me, even now. I have grown to be much older, he is forever young. He came in my life in IHOP one night, sitting a table, after a date, and we struck up a conversation. We became close friends. He had been kicked out of his home as a result of being gay, hooked on H, speed. He had Hollywood by the tail. As time went forward, the streets grabbed him by the tail.

He became HIV + and one night sitting in IHOP months later, he leaned on my shoulder and simply said, “At least with you I am not a piece of meat.” Damien disappeared as suddenly as he appeared.

I was working as a counselor in Minneapolis the next time he appeared. Damien walked in with his cock eyed look, and said, “Hey River!”, and my heart broke. We had problems because I could not be his buddy, or see him after work. He became angry, and acted out in so many ways when he came to the agency, and than he disappeared again, and I was over whelmed with sadness.

Two years later I was hanging out on Polk Street, and Damien walked up, looking worn down by AIDS and drug use, and looking much older, and smiled, and said, “Well you going to treat me like a shit a gain? I smiled, and said, “Never again,”, for through him I had come to see artificial boundaries as destructive and that only in relating as a friend, could I be effective. I was once told that my greatest gift was the ability to open my heart in such away that young people felt like I was one of them. And Damien taught me never to let that gift be compromised.

And from this experience with Damien, through the years I have learned that the streets of the Tenderloin and the streets of the Haight area is like a world with an invisible barb wire barrier. There is a world beyond, but to the street kids it is inaccessible for it fears and rejects them, and they in turn do not understand its rules and cannot survive it.

Our call is to choose life. To live our lives in service meeting people where they are, and asking ourselves whether we carry the blessing of acceptance, love, and non-judgment in our hearts or if we have the death of our own expectations and that of societies. Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!

+Fr. River Damien Sims, sfw, D.Min.

P.O. Box 642656

San Francisco, CA 94164



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