Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ascending Dominoes

Today a former Mary Isaak Center resident came in to apply for a weekly food box. He radiated happiness, beaming with pride for being in transitional housing now and for the new job that got him there.

This gentleman worked hard while he lived at "Mary's House." I could always count on him to do more than was required. Even after he got the paid job that took much of his time, he showed up to do extra work. He wasn't afraid to use old-fashioned elbow grease, and I'm proud it took him to the next step in putting his life back together.

Before he left, he said that the dominoes in his life are falling uphill now; one good thing leads to another. It makes me happy to see him following this ascending path. May it continue to lead him to good places.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Edible Miracles

I stepped out of the office in the COTS Petaluma Kitchen one day last week to see boxes overflowing with the most exquisitely beautiful vegetable bounty imaginable: purple broccoli, colorful chard, the biggest collard greens ever, hearty turnips and fresh herbs of all types.

These had just been unloaded from one of our regular food donors, St. James Church. The parishioners there have created a community garden for the express purpose of providing food for the hungry.

It happened again today. As if by magic, baskets of salad greens, spinach, broccoli, and other wonderful edibles appeared on our receiving tables.

It's our Wednesday miracle.

I was so proud to think of our residents and the surrounding community's hungry being fed these eye-popping fresh veggies, and I could only imagine how happy our cooks will be to prepare them.

Growing food is not an easy task, and as I viewed the abundant produce, thoughts of the hands that planted the garden and the backs bent lovingly to tend it came to mind.

I am unspeakably grateful for the big-hearted folks who plucked the food from the ground and drove it to us so others may be fed. Fresh veggies do a body good, and such generosity is every bit as healthy for the heart.

Opening My Eyes to Hear Music

I heard a timid knock at the office door. When I opened it, one of the new Mary Isaak Center residents was there for his weekly community service assignment.

A soft-spoken man with a professorial air, he sported a tweed coat. My heart broke to think of this genteel older gentleman living on the street, but that was tempered with gratitude for his now having a warm and safe place to lay his head.

He was permanently injured, so couldn't stand for any significant length of time. Since the work in the kitchen is mostly physical, we had to be creative to determine where he could serve. We settled on his inspecting the many loaves of donated bread piled on shelves in the storeroom. He pulled up a stool and got to work.

As he began his task, I learned he was a classical pianist. The delicate fingers which once made music were now handling loaves of bread as he looked for mold. He managed his task thoroughly and with grace, taking it very seriously.

Later in the day, another classical pianist appeared. This dapper man, a senior citizen, lived in his travel trailer while he awaited housing. It was hard not to gasp at the meagerness of his income while we filled out his application for our food box program.

These literary, erudite, musical men inspire me. Both have fallen on hard times, but are surviving their circumstances with grace and humility.

Poverty is a mean taskmaster, but it hasn't taken their dignity. They remain examples to me, and I am grateful we can extend a helping hand.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Breaking Down Barriers

I'm blessed to work in a place of miracles: COTS, an agency that serves the homeless in Petaluma. I have so much to learn, and recently I was taught a lesson about being open to experience beauty in unexpected places.

Nearly every day at work I walked right past a woman who regularly waited in line for our daily lunches. She was almost always the first one there, arriving quite early to stake out her usual spot.

She sat hunched over, knees pulled into her chest, staring straight ahead. Her hair was disheveled and her clothes dirty. Her face was set and her eyes were disengaged from what was happening around her, as though she wanted to avoid interaction at all costs. To be honest, she scared me a little bit, and I'm not proud of that.

But each time I passed her, something tugged at my heart. I was ignoring a human being who deserved to be acknowledged like anyone else. I decided to say hello to her.

When I did, she turned her face toward me and looked into my eyes. It was a beautiful moment. I saw a woman who was open to me, with no trace of the sullen determination that had been there before.

A little habit formed that day. I always made sure to say hello to her, and she always looked at me and returned my greeting. Each time I felt a warm rush of joy.

Once we had a discussion. It had been a warm winter and the trees were blooming prematurely. We shared our love of the blossoms and our concern for their early appearance. Instead of the woman I once feared, I found a lucid and articulate conversationalist.

I haven't seen her much lately, and I'm sorry I didn't learn her name. I saw her walking once while I was driving. "There goes my new friend," I thought.

I'm ashamed of my initial resistance to this lovely human being, but am glad that yet another piece of the wall around my heart has been broken. Beauty lurks in unexpected places. May we be courageous enough to see it.