Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Thanksgiving Wish

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photo by nimbustheodora via flickr

She was young but her spirit had already walked many, many miles. Her voice was rough, her eyes were tired, her body dragged. I saw her in the hallway after she brought her little girl to school and before she headed back to the projects where she and her three children lived. It was November in Raleigh, North Carolina, 1997.

“G’morning, Tina,” I said to her with a gentle smile.
She looked up at me with a softness I hadn’t seen from her before, as if she needed kindness so badly, as if without it, she didn’t know how she would make it through her day.
            I reached out to touch her arm, to give it a little squeeze. “I don’t have anyone in my office right now,” I said. “If you have time, I’d love to talk to you.”
            She nodded and swallowed hard, trying her best to hold back tears.

            I moved my hand to hers and held it tightly as we walked back to my office. “It’s gonna be alright," I whispered. "It’s all gonna be alright.”

She told me her story that day, a story of hope and disappointment, abuse and tragedy, love and loss.
            “I apply for jobs when the kids are in school but preschool is only a few hours and I need a job to pay for childcare, but I need childcare to have a job. I am so tired, Miss Brynne, so tired. And it feels like no one cares a thing. I go to the store and no one looks me in the eye, no one pays me any mind. It’s like I’m invisible, something no one wants to see. I might not’a gone to college, but I ain’t bad. I love my children just like the other lady does, I just didn’t never get any help. I been doing it all on my own since I was fourteen.”
We talked for a long while that day and lit a few candles in that heart of hers to lighten up the darkest places. Tina cried and she cried and she cried. And I listened and held her, hard, the best way I knew how.

A few weeks later, it was nearing Thanksgiving. I knew Tina and her family wouldn’t have much but I didn’t say a thing. Until one day, the last day of school before the holiday break, I had to.
“Tina?” I said to her, after she watched her little girl run into the classroom to play with friends. “I have something for you,” and I motioned for her to come with me.

As we walked to my car, I told Tina a story about an old lady who had a lot of money. I told her how the old lady was angry and hurt because no one cared, and no one needed her, not even her money. But after a while, that old lady realized that for people to care about her maybe she needed to start caring herself, first. Maybe if she gave, maybe if she smiled, maybe if she looked someone straight in the eye with kindness from her heart, maybe then, what she needed herself would be returned.

            Tina listened and smiled to herself, thinking as we walked.

“So this old lady,” I said, “she knew I worked in the projects and decided that she’d try giving right away. So she gave me some money and told me what to buy.” I opened the trunk of my car.
Tina looked in at a turkey and all the fixings for a Thanksgiving feast. She covered her mouth and her eyes filled with tears. “For me?” she said. “Really? For me and my babies? Well, I never—”
            My own eyes started welling up, too. “She asked me to give all this to someone who was in danger of thinking no one cared. And for me to tell you she did. She didn’t want any thanks, she just wanted you to not stop believing that the world is a good and kind place. For it is, Tina. It is.”
We hugged that day in the cold, dirty parking lot of Raleigh’s toughest neighborhood. Around us there was anger and ugly, but the two of us, together we were our own little island. And that was all that mattered. That, and that Tina never felt indebted to me for buying her Thanksgiving dinner that year.

*          *          *

Happy Thanksgiving, dear Reader, your heart is mine, too.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wednesday Wish (100); Weave With Me?

Flat Weave Carpet, Amin's Shop, Damascus, Syria
photo by david&bonnie via flickr

An eerie silence wrapped itself around the camp like a heavy fog. I scanned across the cement and the patches of gravel but there was no one. Not even a correction officer. Maybe it was the cold, the cold that seeped in unannounced turning everything a darker grey. Or maybe there was a scuffle and the officers were called to assist. When Count was called, all inmates not in class or an appointment were required to be on their beds. But the officers, they were exempt. Yet still, no one roamed outside. I was all alone.

Gravel crunched under my feet as I walked from Medical back to Programs. And then, without warning, an officer came on the loud speaker, his voice echoing throughout camp.

“Count’s clear. Count … is clear.”

And just like that, the double doors to the biggest wing of the prison, flew open, a flood of men, heading straight for me.

I walked calmly, hoping that I wouldn’t have to speed up my pace to make it to the door of Programs before they did. And yet still, I had to control my urge to watch them gaining on me. I knew they preyed on fear and I refused to give it to them. I kept calm. I focused on where I was headed. But when I reached the door and turned the knob, it didn’t move. I turned it again, shook it to be sure. Nope, it was locked. Hiding my urgency as best I could, I knocked. No answer. Where were the officers? Where was the rest of the staff? I knocked again, a few times, harder, louder. And still, no one answered. I was on my own.

The mass of men—murderers, rapists, criminals of every kind—reached my side. Within seconds they had created a circle around me, no one uttering a word. I looked around, each one wearing the same clothes, the same blank eyes, the same thin lined mouths. I laughed an uncomfortable ‘don’t do this, oh my god’ kind-of laugh. Still, no one said a word, they just closed in, inching forward, making the circle tighter and tighter around me. I could smell the unfiltered cigarette smoke on their breath, the metallic scent of their sweat. They must’ve been at least five to ten men deep. And I was one woman, on my own, with a few inches of buffer around me. I had no idea what to expect or if I would even survive.

And then, like a dream, one inmate pushed his way through the crowd.

“Don’t worry Miss Betz. I got you.” He turned to catch the eyes of all the men around me, his body completely shielding mine, “I got you,” he said again to the crowd, slowly, threateningly. “Ain’t no one gonna touch Miss Betz.”

And just after he did, someone opened the door.

*          *          *

When things happen that we don’t have the capacity to fully understand, when our hearts are moved by unnamed emotions, when we are left speechless by something we have never before met, time stands still. And if we are lucky, once it begins again, we realize that in that moment, we were a thread, a thread that is a part of the weave, a weave that brings into being the vast and magnificent carpet whose presence resembles the Divine. And when we do, we cannot help but surrender. Surrender to the knowing that once a thread in the Divine carpet of life, always a thread in the Divine carpet of life.

My Wish for you? That this week, you think of yourself as a thread, a thread connecting you to every other human being on the planet. Without you, the weave is missing a color, it cannot create its pattern correctly, it’s all wrong. Without him, I would have been hurt, devoured, and who knows what else. Without that single inmate honoring his part in the whole, that profound moment of beauty would have been lost forever. Without you, honoring your part in the whole, moments of beauty are lost every single day. But with you, you can make the divine carpet of life that we are all living, richer, more vibrant, more beautiful than your head or your heart could ever possibly imagine. 

Weave with me? Weave with me, the best is yet to be.