Thursday, May 10, 2007

a mirror ... a little trailer ... nothing to do but say yes

this is an email from my strong and beautiful friend mike.
"westsider" refers to those who live on the nice side of austin; east austin is where those who have fewer means live. all of that of course is bullshit because it's outward and god sees what's on the inside - but that's info for reading this.

Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave,
No One Was Saved.

"Eleanor Rigby" - Paul McCartney

Just east of I-35, Austin Baptist Chapel sits on East 2nd Street, bustling, bristling downtown Austin just to the west, boozed up, burned out barrio just to the east. Consistent with the geography, ABC sits precariously at the border of civilization and an abyss.
In back of ABC, there is a made-over storage shed. This is the place where, during the week, Jose, the “director” of this place, keeps his big dog. The shed is refuge for old clothes and miscellaneous living supplies that people from the west side drop off from time to time. On Saturdays, some of the westsiders come in and, for one hour 9:30 to 10:30, they unlock the metal bars, open the window and pass out the clothes and supplies to the people who line up there.
For the past year or so, I am one of those westsiders. The first and second Saturday of the months, I have gone to that shed, and many times, have been the man behind the bars and in the window.
My first impression and humanitarian response is, “My God, this is terrible. We need to fix this place and these people. We’ll raise money and build a better place; we’ll buy new and better clothes and supplies, and give these people a better life.”
With the passing of the Saturdays, my attitude transforms. I notice that week to week, month to month and even over the course of a year or so, many of the faces are the same – the scars, the stories, the needs, the problems – all seemingly unabated by my earnest concerns and modest efforts.
“What happened to the pants and two shirts and underwear that I gave that guy last week?”
“Why is he back here?”
“Why are they all here?”
There is this epiphany in me, as I come to understand, no, to feel, about the looks in these peoples’ eyes, the sights, smells and spirit of this place.
It is not an epiphany of hope, of fervor, of belief in God, or grace or redemption, or anything so grand or important…It’s like seeing a ghost that I want to run and hide from.
Yet, I am compelled to return, to ignore my westside sensibilities and responsibilities to accommodate that one hour twice a month so that I can be there.
I tell my wife, “This is stupid.”
I tell myself, “I’m not doing anything good.”
I struggle with the fleeting ideas of my superiority and the distinctions that make me, me and them, them.
“Surely, I can make a bigger difference in some other way…”
I look in the mirror every morning, and, come the first Saturday of the month, I find myself looking into those eyes from the window, through the metal grate, in the storage shed at the back of ABC…
There is no ambiguity in the act of handing a penniless, homeless man a pair of pants that he needs to have something to wear this week, or of handing a hungry woman a sandwich a bag of chips and a chocolate bar. There is no transaction, no quid pro quo. It is utter simplicity, not about what I mean or what I stand for, but just about what I do – as mindless, small, pathetic, ineffectual and imperfect as that may be.
So, I say to myself, if I am to do something important, then I must find a way to connect with some truth about importance. I believe that the truth about importance is a strange and often scary mystery, something like that ghost of my epiphany, something that doesn’t have much to do with social hierarchies, conventional wisdom, afflictions, addictions, east or west. I believe that you can see it when you look in the mirror and in those eyes at the various windows, and off in the distance in the stars in the skies. I would ask you as a brother to find it within yourself to take your own look.

1 comment:

nonprofitprophet said...

to quote one of my liberal friends, "Well there ya go..."
If this fellow keeps looking, he's going to find an answer, which may keep him up all night. ~npp