Tuesday, November 20, 2012

pondering gratitude in a not-right world

It's that time of night, where the heat has finally caught up to the chill. I wake to pull off my long-sleeved pajama top, which has become unnecessary, and glance at the clock as I lay back down: 2 AM.

Sleep eludes me. I crawl out of bed, stumble in the dark to dress, and step outside. Here in Gordonsville, Va, where we are enjoying a mini-vacation, the stars shine with brilliance against the truly dark sky of the countryside.  I gaze as long as I can stand the cold, then head back in to the warmth of the cabin.

That's when I remember, with a pang, what my son had said earlier in the day:  "It isn't right".

We were in the historical district of downtown Charlottesville. I'd watched him hand a man a large hot coffee with cream and sugar, pet his dog for a moment, smile and say, "I think he really loves you!", then walk back toward me.  We took a few silent steps together, then he heaved a loud, heavy sigh and exclaimed,

"It isn't right.  It isn't right for him to be out here like that. People shouldn't live outdoors in the cold. People should have homes that are warm, where people love them."

I stopped walking.  My other son, his younger brother - who had been watching and listening, too - stopped, as well.  I looked them both in the eye.

"You're right.  Listen to me:  YOU. ARE. RIGHT.  What you just saw is wrong.  It shouldn't be.  It has to stop, and it's up to YOU (looking at both of them) to stop it."

They both gaped a bit, but I continued,

"Your generation has to fix this. You have to make them care enough to make it right. My generation has a few who care, but most are content so long as it's not them sitting with their back against a cold brick wall.  In fact, if more people sitting out in the cold means they get more stuff, all the better.  It's wrong.  Look at me:  MAKE IT RIGHT!"

Out of the corner of my eye I could see my husband talking to our girls, as well.  The boys' little sisters were getting the same message.

I then comforted my son with information I could only hope was true, that the man would sleep inside tonight.  That people from a shelter or a church would care for him, as our family has done multiple times through Room at the Inn.  But inside I wondered... he didn't look like he'd had a chance to clean up in quite a while.  I doubted he was willing to leave his dog behind, or that shelters allowed him to bring it along.  As I looked back, his dog was licking his face;  I felt sick at the thought of such a choice.

Back in my warm cabin, I think about the man and the coffee and the dog and my son.  I go to the restroom to look in the mirror.  3 AM looks rough on anybody.  I have bags under my eyes, my unwashed hair is matted to my head ... how long would it take for entropy to take over, leaving me indistinguishable from those on the street?

Weeks?

Days?  

Someone once told me my problem is that I feel guilty for what I have, that I am ashamed of my success and status in the world.  Was he right?  I don't know, maybe.  Is it wrong to feel that way?  I'm not convinced of that, either.  I'd like to think that I'm grateful, but what does that even mean?  Often, when people express gratitude, it sounds a lot like they are saying, "I'm glad someone else is suffering instead of me".  Is it so wrong to feel that none should suffer?  To not be satisfied?  Is that ingratitude?  I hope not.  I don't know...

I think, again, about my son.  It wasn't a question for him.  It wasn't something he was pondering. He'd made a decisive statement,

"It's not right!"

Turning my thoughts back to him brings a hopeful reminder.  I recall how, a couple of years ago, I'd attended the Global Leadership Summit.  What I'd found most inspiring about all the speakers was a central thread each one had in common.  From Cory Booker to Mama Maggie, they'd all expressed some version of the same story:

"My parents worked hard and made sure we had everything we needed.  But with that, they instilled in us a calling, a challenge, a holy duty - that to whom much is given, much is required.  You are blessed, to bless - we have given to you, so that you will go make the world better for others."

And they'd done it.


I crawl back into bed, grateful ... Yes, that I'm not leaning against a cold brick wall.  Yes, that I have a bed to crawl into and someone to share it with.  Yes, that my children are healthy and safe and warm and fed... but also immensely grateful that the challenge is taking root in their souls, and for the hope it brings, that - because of them - the future will be more "right" than the present.

1 comment:

Nancy Kraft said...

Oh, this is beautiful. Just beautiful. Thank you.