Light one candle.
May 5, 2011 § 22 Comments
We bought the house for $26,000, cheap even for 1996. It was a bank foreclosure, common now, but much rarer then. In addition to the fifty-year-old stucco cottage and a yard full of mature trees, we bought into a neighborhood.
Although modest, our new neighborhood was spotlessly clean. No litter anywhere.
It wasn’t long before we saw a woman walking along our street, a plastic bag over her arm and a pair of tongs in her hand. Her passage through the neighborhood looked furtive, like a night creature caught in the light. She made quick forays into yards to pick up an empty soda can or a crumpled candy wrapper. We soon learned her name was Miss Holly.
I don’t know how many years she had acted as a one-woman beautification crew before we moved in, but in the fifteen years since we bought this house Miss Holly has abandoned her self-imposed responsibility only once, and that was when she fell and broke her arm stocking shelves at WalMart.
Miss Holly is now comfortable enough with me to trade opinions about the weather when our paths cross as we walk the neighborhood. “Hot, isn’t it?” I ask. ” But why complain?” she answers.
Like the weather, which is almost always too hot, the world at large can be an uncomfortable place. But why complain? Of course I do complain—I’m alarmed, and often terrified. We seem to have fallen into a Darwinian mindset in which only the fittest among us will survive–and they will be taken out by the failure of this beautiful planet that is, even now, groaning under our abuse—but what can we do?
The sun will be up soon, and Miss Holly will come off the night shift at WalMart. Before going to bed she will walk Seminole Manor Neighborhood and pick up trash, carefully separating what can be recycled from what can’t. The very local world in which I live is beautifully clean thanks to this one woman.
A trash-free neighborhood is not world peace, but it is something. Although painfully shy Miss Holly does this job for all of us. Her strength is her diligence.
My friend, Craig is not shy. Gregarious and exuberant, his glass is never just half full, it runs over. Craig’s strength is his unquenchable and infectious optimism. As a Hospice volunteer, he shares that optimism with people in the bleakest stretch of days in a human life, the last. On a recent visit he arrived just as his patient was falling. Craig managed to lower the gentleman to the floor without injury but had to wait for help to get the man up and into a chair.
So Craig took out his guitar. The patient, who was lying on the floor, reached for his harmonica. It is hard to be fearful while playing, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy, when skies are gray.”
My friends Kary and Sally bought a house on a corner lot in my neighborhood. The corner lots are large, and they converted a sunny lawn into a vegetable garden. Where I am territorial about my own garden, they are generous. Neighbors plant and weed and eat from the garden on the corner of Cates and Stanley, and when the garden is bearing abundantly, housebound neighbors hear a knock on the door. When they open the door Kary is standing there with a bag of greens or tomatoes.
How do I (the garden hoarder) try to mitigate all that is wrong in the world? My first response is to tell a story. Each is a Trojan horse concealing a message: love thy neighbor, the genuinely brave person is responsible, family is anyone who loves you.
These same messages have been clothed in story for thousands of years. We are slow learners, and I figure that a fresh version can’t hurt.
My stories are like children I send out into the world. Once in a while I hear back from them, usually in the form of a note from an appreciative reader.
But that is like putting a message in a bottle and hoping it is picked up by a stranger on a distant beach. In my day-to-day world I run a library for the kids in my neighborhood. My particular strength is a love of kids. I encourage them to read, I bake them cupcakes and provide glue and paper and project after project to prepare them for their own time as guardians of the world.
My husband, who is not comfortable stepping into the melee of a Sunday afternoon at the library, did the carpentry work on The Front Porch Library. When a kid pushes a bike to our door with the chain dragging, he repairs it, and when a bike goes missing he buys a replacement out of his diligently filled change can. And then he says, “Oh, I just had that spare bike lying around.”
I don’t deny the world is in a sorry state.
Always has been.
No one can look at all the injustice, need, greed and stupidity and say, “I can fix that.” Overwhelmed, we get depressed, we grow cynical. I check out the big picture as often as I can stand to look. Then I revert to the comfort of selective blindness. Narrowing my focus, I look instead inside the cupboard of myself and say, what’s in here that might be the tool I need to fix this one problem that stands in front of me right now?
I can’t fix what ails us–even we can’t fix what ails us, but acts of kindness, courage, dilligence or hope add up.
” It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” Confucius
“Don’t worry. When we get too old to hit the high notes we’ll sing the Blues!” Craig Reeder