one day’s worth of life

My alarm jolts me awake, heart racing. It’s been like that lately.

After the usual shower I plod my way down the stairs. I’m up earlier than usual. Most of the time my housemate Brendan makes the coffee, which is lovely, but there’s another kind of pleasure in making it myself, the smell of the beans and the precise measuring. I’m always thankful for my cup of coffee, I don’t know how.

Even after a cup, though, I sit down to put on my shoes and my eyes close involuntarily, reminding me I didn’t sleep well at all. Yesterday was a hard day for living with people – one of the hardest. The conflict still hangs in the air.

I’m five minutes late because I slept five minutes longer. It’s a reliable 22 minutes to walk to work in the winter, when I keep up a good pace to stay warm. This is the best way to start the day, outside, feeling the city I live in, using my legs and praying. There’s always so much to see – today tiny snowflakes are dusting everything and it looks just like powdered sugar.

I say hi to people on the sidewalk. There’s a lady on the phone next to her two wiggly toddlers, and I am thinking how beautiful they are when she screams at the girl to “get the f*** over here”, picks her up by the jacket, and throws her on the other side of the sidewalk hard enough to leave a bruise. The girl starts wailing and I walk on by, wondering like always what I should do in these situations; coming to the conclusion like always that there’s really nothing. These episodes are common in my neighborhood and I always pray for the kids. I feel small.

I get there after the Food Bank truck leaves but just in time to actually move the stuff with Joe. I messed up our order for the first time, an understandable mistake, but I still feel bad. Worse because Joe doesn’t say anything except to list all the stuff he’ll have to go buy. There’s no one to be mad at but myself; of course I offer to go with him to the store. He’s playing country music in his car, and I want to cry for how much I miss home.

Like I said, I’m tired. The tire on the dolly is flat for the twelfth time and why the hell doesn’t someone get that fixed? Usually I am glad to help move the hundreds of pounds of food, feel the strain in my arms and create order out of our little stock room; but today when I drop a box of margarine I swear and just stand there, all my energy fighting the urge to step over the box and walk out, walk home. Why do we even give people margarine? It’s not a food. They don’t deserve it, they’re not looking for work. Ugly thoughts, I don’t like myself at all today. Help.

I feed myself lunch but quelling my hunger does nothing for this foul mood. I spend the rest of the afternoon looking for the motivation to send some e-mails, mostly staring at nothing instead. Today it seems pointless. Whether the e-mail gets sent or not, things are never going to change, people are just self-absorbed and messed up. I’m done with the homeless people, done with the church people, done with myself.

I finally get out of there at four. I’m glad to at least be walking home; I think better on the move. East Genesee Street slides by and I’m not really looking – until I’m almost back at that one bus stop where I saw a little girl being abused. I saw a little girl being abused. I haven’t even thought about that girl in the seven hours since I passed her, not consciously at least, and suddenly this fans my sullenness into white-hot anger. I’m angry at the woman hurting her child. Angry at whoever hurt the woman. Angry at the apathy all around me all the time, people going about their junk food and their Netflix and their politics and money so they don’t have to touch these people and feel their pain. I wish there was someone I could fight. I’m walking fast up this hill; I was really cold before, but now I’m sweating in these layers.

In a couple hours I’ll go on a Tuesday-evening just-because date with my boyfriend. I’ll worry that I’m not very fun today, but he can always get me to relax somehow. I’ll sit across the table and tell him my ugly day and wonder again where he came from, how he got so caring and intelligent and lighthearted; we’ll make Rice Krispie treats and play with the marshmallows and be sickeningly happy together. My heart will be big again.


Do you know, do you know how beautiful it all is, do you see at all? So many days in this work I think my heart has shattered out across the whole world and I’m just too broken anymore. But then I walk out into the world and I start to find the little pieces, one at a time, here the tracks of birds’ feet in the snow, there a backpack bouncing wildly, it’s happy to be running home off the bus.

Do you ever sit and wonder at how much tragedy and how much that is good and true all exist together in this little space, the earth? You can’t name evil until you know what we’ve lost, the wound of it, but is there anything more right and whole than redemption? It’s all right there, soaring sweeping glory next to black despair next to a holy cup of coffee so near to innocence betrayed.

It’s too much, really it is, none of us is God and thank goodness, I couldn’t stand to really see it all like he does. I only occupy so much space and my heart can only stretch so far. But we choose our worlds like never before and I’m not going to wrap myself up in a car for when it’s cold and a radio for when I’m bored and a smartphone for when I don’t want to deal with people. I’m going to fight to choose the real physical world where all the stuff happens, with the blue-and-yellow house on the corner and the stray cats and boring conversations and homeless people muttering nonsense and babies with hats on. That’s where I help feed people, where my choice of transportation affects others, where I’m falling in love. It’s so miraculous God couldn’t stay out of it, he came here and lived and died for the beauty and pain of a girl on a sidewalk, and all the people passing her by.

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1 Comment

  1. Jacqueline in Atlanta

     /  January 16, 2013

    Today at the grocery I interesected with a lady at the milk case. I walked up. She drove up in her wheelchair. “Can I reach something for you?” I asked her. “A half gallon of whole milk would be lovely and so helpful,” she replied, smiling. I got her milk, then my own 2% gallon. I walked toward the front to pay, wiping tears and whispering a grateful prayer. “Thank you God that I can walk down this aisle. Thank you I can taste milk and see to drive and hear this stupid canned Muzak on the speakers and that I am healthy and haven’t even had the flu this winter. Thank you for all the things I take for granted and the lady in the wheelchair is the one smiling at me. Forgive me for ever complaining about anything.”

    yep, I know. Snowflakes and abusers all in the same walk. You don’t know whether to cry or slap someone.


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