I have been homeless for 421 days. I moved out of my beautiful apartment on the west side of Los Angeles last June as a conscious decision to live life to the fullest, to adventure and focus on saving money in order to meet people and travel. A few months later my beloved van Myrtle passed and it became less of a decision and more of a fight. I never asked for money or favors, never forced anyone to house me, feed me or shower, asking only if I had something to offer in return.

It’s been 421 days since I have had a reliable roof over my head, a shower to cleanse, a kitchen to cook and a deadlock to lock. I’ve learned more in this last 421 days than I thought I would, made less money than I anticipated and had many many more catastrophes that have led me to spells where I’ve cried, raged and thought I had lost every friend and thing I thought I had.

But I’ve learned some things about this world that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. I’ve gained insight from strangers and others who I might have ignored or never met. I’ve been in situations that have changed my outlook and I’ve become more accepting and loving than I was before. I’ve learned how to read people and who to trust. I’ve learned about the real-ness of the world and how closed off most minds are.

When I sold my belongings and bought a van, I was told I was brave, strong and people were jealous of my free spirit to be able to cast away material possessions. I didn’t feel brave, but believed that I was in for a blessed ride, a social experiment to see what I could achieve if I didn’t live conventionally.

When Myrtle broke down, I was in a race with time, to see if I could live according to my worth, to make money with my talent; and I did. Life doesn’t always work out the way we plan and as life got more and more difficult I was forced to rely on friends, family and strangers. I never asked for much instead settling on the minimum that could be given, showing gratitude and love wherever I went. I stayed with my Grandma for a couple of hard months, connecting and listening to her viewpoints on what I was doing. I then stayed with a boyfriend and finally had saved enough for a trip overseas living on the bare minimum of $10 a day on foreign soil.

It’s been 421 days of rubbing elbows with a new person each one of those 24 hours, and the thing that has stood out the most is what people say vs what they do. The people who I have met who have the least are willing to give the most. The people who are loneliest will take up all your time. The people who claim hardest to be your best friend, or enlightened or full of wisdom will be the first to drop you in a moment or talk about you in negative light. The more a person claims to be something, the less likely they are. People tell you who they are based on their actions and their words, not always in what they do or say, but in what is never mentioned or done. The people who are happiest are sober or at least not tied to a particular vice or habit. The people who are spreading the most love are usually the most unexpected; usually homeless or have had some kind of tragic event.

People who try to be invisible are the ones who need love the most. Kindness will save lives, love will save the world.

It’s been 421 days and I’m not sure how many more days will be added to my total but I do know this: it doesn’t matter. I love this world, I love each person who inhabits this world. I have become better at standing up for myself, better at creating boundaries, better at knowing who is a friend and who I can trust. I am better with my words and speaking with care. I am more grateful and more confident in my abilities. I know that I’m stronger, more open and flexible, more communicative and I smile much more.

I haven’t painted as much in the last 421 days, but I’ve written more than the prior 30 years. I know what it means to be an artist and sacrifice for what I care about. I know what it is to love. To love unconditionally even the people who have wronged me because they haven’t really done anything except show me who I am and how much I can grow. I have learned about prejudice and propaganda and evils in the world. I have learned how to relay all the information and inspiration I receive into works of art and how to reach an audience through words and visual symbols. Most of all though, I’ve learned what it is like to really and truly be alive. And that is the most important lesson of these 421 days well lived and well spent in this glorious world. I wouldn’t trade my homelessness and rich life experiences for my old beautiful apartment for these last 421 days because I wouldn’t be nearly as wealthy as I am today with less than $4.21 in my bank account.

So I ask you once again as I do from time to time: What opens your eyes? Have you talked to a stranger today and what have you learned? What makes you wealthy and how can you use that to change your world?