Living in this World

Saturday, January 30, 2010

#87 Cold and kindness

Cold and Kindness I

Slip out from under covers
leave that cozy nest
for broken-furnace winter.

Outside is colder, with a biting wind.
Pass up the car’s warm ease for trolley
with its promise for the years to come.

Walk then wait. Our numbers grow
in turned up collars, quiet deepening chill
broken by a new arrival
middle aged and black
shabby, rounded, warm with laughter
greeting a white man
crisp in uniform, measured and erect.
My mind puts them in roles,
opposing sides, and yet
they chat with ease and mutual respect.
The white man says he still can’t go to malls
the black man has no job, needs trauma help
they must be vets
the bond of war too great to break
on class or race or other circumstance.
A place inside me loosens in their warmth.

The trolley comes.
A couple shuffle in and take their seats
one carrying his oxygen,
their bickering cannot obscure
how they rely on one other or their care.

Late for Sunday service but already filled
with kindness in the midst of winter cold.
Home, to find the furnace man has come,
and we have heat.

Cold and Kindness II

It’s an old Nissan truck, she says
parked by the nursing home.
As I walk out
this bitter winter night
all the white trucks
look big and fat and prosperous.
I turn the last corner
find the nursing home and then the truck
old, steamed up with life inside.
I tap the window
two cocooned forms stir
becoming Moussa and Maria.

On Christmas Eve we got the call
from a young immigrant
we welcomed to the country
years ago:
A couple from Mali
are sleeping in a car
outside my house.
What should I do?

She did a lot
called shelters
navigated the maze
of social services,
came up empty.

We offered what we could—
names, food, money for gas
(their heat)
then left
to be with a dying mother
and grieving family
for Christmas,
while they slept in the cold.

Back, and picking up the threads
of life at home
we make a plan to meet them,
knowing we have space.

He lost his good place at a print shop
then, when winter came
the car wash job
then everything else
except the truck.

It’s easy to give food
money for a PO box
where food stamps can be mailed
warm wool sweater
hat, gloves and socks,
easier, perhaps, than all the thanks
that they must give, and give again.

And we are warm
and when they leave
I do not want to take them in.

We reach out to others who might help
to shield them from the arctic weather
coming in.
I think to offer showers
(to more thanks)
and still our empty space at home
looms large and questioning.

A friend calls back
to say they’ll take them in
for these ten days
and I go looking for the truck
to bring the news.

Her willingness is balm
to a troubled soul.
She speaks as I would wish to feel--
grateful for the miracle
of being asked to share her space
with a Maria far from home
looking for shelter with her husband
in the cold mid-winter.

I see how grief
has set our life off-balance.
We’ve lost that sacred centered place
of spacious generosity.
And yet I rest in knowing it still lives
in fullness in another
and will be ours again.

Cold and Kindness, III

Black smoke sends me rushing
floor to floor
house burned to the ground
inside my head before I find
there are no open flames.
Shut off the furnace, start to breathe again
last hidden flame snuffed out
inferno vision laid to rest
in growing cold.

Yet safe heat proves elusive
as a century of chimney wear
awaits its due.

I do not count a chimney sweep
among my friends—
did not before this week.
A blind search called him out.

Courteous and kind
he labors for our heat
day after day
as we add layers,
grow sluggish in the chill,
ask ourselves how long we can hold on.

I can’t do much to help him out.
All I can give is courtesy
and kindness in return.
Warmth takes root
and grows here in the cold.
When he is done
clasping hands to say goodbye,
we know this is no flighty thing.

Even if his careful chimney job
lasts another century
we’ll find a way to meet
and I will see his face again
and smile.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

A Lebanese man who joins his fellow Semite Jews in their ritual observances at times as an act of ethnic solidarity.

The enormous shift our economy and society made to address the demands of WWII, and what that indicates about our ability to reorder big priorities in short time frames when there is a will.

The Boggs Education Center in Detroit which tells its children: Since we are all counting on you for our very existence, we need you to be your best self--to be healthy and kind and connected. And you can do it. We are here to support you. We love you.

The rivers of the South Wales coalfield that once ran black with coal and now host salmon again--the ultimate test of a clean river system.

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