A Day of Kindness


 

–by Neal Lemery

 

I had a big dose of soul medicine and human kindness last week.  The experience restored my faith in humanity and the power of unconditional love. I saw my community at its best.

A friend invited me to Homeless Connect, a community effort to provide basic needs to those among us who find themselves without shelter and other necessities.

The weather was bitter. Cold winds blew and temperatures were in the 20s at night. It wasn’t so rough that the local warming shelter would be open, but it was still promising to be a miserable night.

My task was to be the greeter and the poll taker as folks left.

“Did you get what you needed?” and “What could we do better?”

I met a steady stream of people, people of all ages and circumstances.  I didn’t know their stories, and that kind of personal information was thankfully unwanted.   We simply welcomed everyone who showed up and took care of basic needs. The red tape of bureaucracy was nowhere to be found. We did keep track of how many people came, as those without shelter are nearly invisible in our culture.

I saw a lot of smiles. Their pets were cared for, vaccinated, and fed. They had a hot meal and haircuts, were tended by health care providers, and connected with services by nearly every social service agency in town. They could pick up clean, warm clothes, blankets, sleeping bags, shoes, coats, tarps, and tents.

They made connections, not just with people and agencies who could offer a helping hand, but also with each other.

I saw connections made and strengthened with friends, family, an abundance of job prospects and housing tips. There was a spirit of fellowship and camaraderie filling the church gym where we had all gathered.

People were helping people, giving a helping hand, a ride, ideas and where to get help for a particular problem, connecting with others who cared.  There was dignity and love.

It was an afternoon of suspended judgement and the absence of loudly voiced opinions and political rhetoric, blaming and stereotyping.  Instead, it was a time of getting the right size of winter coat, a sleeping bag, a bag of food for someone’s dog, a haircut, a hot meal, and a tip on a decent, safe place to pitch a tent.

Everyone helped everyone else.  No one left without something to help them take better care of themselves, make their lives a little easier, and a feeling that they were an important part of the community.

Community.  That was the unpublished message of the day.  People had generously donated the food, clothing, bedding, pet care, medical care, and an afternoon of services to reach out to and help their fellow community members.

There were great conversations, interactions on problem solving and connecting people to each other, sharing resources and knowledge, being human and acting with kindness and compassion.  There was respect.

The sun moved lower and the cold wind off the mountains pushed deeper through my coat, reminding me that night was coming.  The people I was talking with were slowly drifting away, off to spend this night sleeping on the ground, with maybe only a tarp, a tent, and a sleeping bag to ward off the frosty air, and the loneliness of yet another night without permanent shelter.

I struggled to relate, to comprehend their lives.

I knew that I had a warm home to return to when my volunteer shift came to an end. There would be family to greet me, a hot meal on the stove, a comfortable chair, a good book, a warm, clean bed, and a bathroom with hot water and clean towels. I would not have to move on when the sun came up, putting all of my possessions into a plastic garbage bag, and maybe a backpack, and wondering where my next meal was coming from.

Also at home would be my assumptions about life, about meeting a person’s basic needs and how people live in our community.

I assume a lot, yet I’m complacent, ignorant about how so many people in our community live, what they don’t have, and what they can expect in the days to come. I find myself too often acting blind to the dilemma of such need in a society where some are wealthy, and there is an abundance of necessities, yet out of reach of so many.

For that afternoon at least, there was compassion, service, charity, and a common fellowship of people helping each other, of making lives more comfortable, more bearable. Another cold winter’s night was coming, and dedicated community members had made a small effort to help ease people’s circumstances, maybe helping them step forward into better times.

I learned, again, that in our humanity, it is not difficult to act with kindness and compassion. If I suspend judgement and comparison, if I try to walk a mile in another’s shoes, then I can look at the world with greater understanding.

And, I can renew myself, and again be connected to the true purpose of our lives.

 

2/4/2019

I Choose To Build


 

I can choose to do nothing, to embrace the status quo, and not examine my own thinking, my own, old ways of doing things. Or, I can be the wrecking ball, the sour voice of discontent when new ideas and new ways come my way.

 

Or, I can be the builder, using the solid, time tested materials and ways that have worked in the past, and incorporate the new energies, the new ideas, and make things better.

 

My choice.

 

“There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem.” — attributed to Eldridge Cleaver.

 

My community is going through a lot of change now. Our downtown traffic pattern is being completely revamped, and the streets and sidewalks are torn up. The usual routines and paths are disrupted, and our city bird is the construction crane. Construction worker orange and raincoats is the new fashion statement.

 

I can curse the detours, the mud, the mess, or I can look through that and see the beginnings of the new town plaza, the spots for new street trees, and the better traffic flow that will come from this.

 

I choose to build, to make stronger, to help others on their own path, so that they can achieve their dreams, and to find their path a little easier.

 

And, I can join the voices embracing the new energies, the vitality of a prosperous, active downtown area. I can be part of that, and be a builder.

 

I’ve done my share of whining about what is lacking in my home town. But, I am choosing to be a builder, not a destroyer, a part of the solutions and not part of the problems.

 

To that end, I’ve helped organize and host a monthly open mic downtown on Saturday nights, providing a performance space for writers, musicians, and other artists. Part of that work is joining others to bring gallery space for artists downtown, and promote the creative arts.

 

I’m a master gardener and have helped educate myself and others on sustainable gardening and educating the community about being better stewards of the land. I’ve nurtured and planted community garden space.

 

I’m working on a foundation to help fund improvements to local parks and recreation spaces.

 

And, I’ve spoken out in favor of our community library, and worked on the campaign to renew its local funding.

 

I’m not alone. This community is on the move, and change is on the wind. New ideas, new projects are everywhere. Nearly seventy of my neighbors just returned from a ten day trip to China, having new experiences, learning about another part of the world, and coming home with new ideas and a new international perspective.

 

Today is Poem In Your Pocket Day, which encourages us to share an inspirational poem. Here’s my choice:

 

The Bridge Builder

 

BY WILL ALLEN DROMGOOLE (1860-1934)

 

An old man going a lone highway,

Came, at the evening cold and gray,

To a chasm vast and deep and wide.

Through which was flowing a sullen tide

The old man crossed in the twilight dim,

The sullen stream had no fear for him;

But he turned when safe on the other side

And built a bridge to span the tide.

 

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,

“You are wasting your strength with building here;

Your journey will end with the ending day,

You never again will pass this way;

You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,

Why build this bridge at evening tide?”

 

The builder lifted his old gray head;

“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,

“There followed after me to-day

A youth whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm that has been as naught to me

To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;

He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;

Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”

 

Anthology of Verse, 1931

 

Change is all around me. I could choose to be the stick in the mud, struggling against the tide, holding fast to the old, the familiar. Or, I could be part of the change, going with the flow, being one with the river; and embracing the change.

 

The old ways can be comforting, certainly familiar. Yet, will they be successful, meaningful as the world, as my community changes?

 

“The civilization that is able to survive is the one that is able to adapt to the changing physical, social, political, moral and spiritual environment in which is finds itself.” (Leon Megginson, 1963. quoted by Thomas Friedman, Thank You For Being Late, 2016, p. 298)

 

I can be the bridge builder, the advocate for a better community, or I can be the stick in the mud, and let the tide move against me, leaving me rotting in the muck of the past, as the world passes by.

 

—Neal Lemery, 4/27/2017

Honoring Earth Day


 

Every day is Earth Day, because this is my home, and I breathe the air, drink the water, feed my body, and co-exist with all of the other beings and lives on this planet. I live here and I am a steward of this place, the only place I have in the universe.
This week, I planted seeds, pruned, weeded, mowed, watered, fertilized, and tended, in both the biological sense and the social sense. We are in this life together and should care for ourselves, each other and our home.
Being in places of great beauty and abundant life, I watched, I learned, I appreciated, I connected.
I tended and cared and nurtured. I tried to act with kindness and compassion, being a good neighbor, a good member of family, a good citizen of this earth.
Hopefully, what I do in my life helps others grow, find peace, and be comfortable with their own place in this world. Hopefully, I am a force of constructive growth and love.
And, hopefully, what I do, and what I choose not to do, and act, and be, will make a positive difference in this world, and make it a better place.
Honoring the earth, caring for it, being a good steward, is a spiritual calling, and is being in harmony with all that is around me.
Honoring the earth is a sacred duty.

–Neal Lemery, April 22, 2017

Under Construction


My town is going through some big changes. The state highway department is starting a major project, re-routing the intersection of the two major highways that funnel all the tourists, and most of the locals through downtown. A familiar motel and two restaurants have been reduced to rubble and hauled away in huge trucks.

And the city has decided to join in the chaos, by renovating and replacing most of the water mains in the downtown area. Ditches are dug, covered with temporary steel plates, and new water main pipes are finding their way beneath the torn up streets.

Yet, there is more afoot here than meets the eye. Other renovations are underway, more fundamental, and more in the realm of revitalizing our spirit.

A major shelter and service center for homeless people and folks fresh out of the local jail and prisons has opened, offering on site services and a healthy path to personal dignity and reformation.

The community college is building a brand new building, and offering new programs, bringing together other agencies to collaborate on problem solving and innovation.

Even our estuaries are getting a fresh start. Large scale work is underway to open up sloughs, take out dikes, and renovate tide gates, revitalizing our estuaries, restoring salmon habitat, improving movement of flood waters, and re-creating a healthy environment for fish, birds, trees, and reviving an essential part of our web of life. We even decided not to squabble about the project, working together in a collaborative fashion to reduce winter flooding, improve salmon habitat, and literally finding and improving our common ground.

In that work, our young people have led the way, taking their education on improving the world out into the waterways, teaching us biology, flood dynamics, and cooperative learning and problem solving.

Other youth are growing native plants for streambank restoration, raising salmon, and developing community gardens. Learning at school now includes getting out and making our world a classroom, giving us all a new paradigm of what education means.

Farmers are studying improved agricultural techniques, working with others to be better stewards of the earth, implementing new methods, and testing out new crops.

Volunteerism is rampant and a wide range of non-profit activities fill the community calendar.

The coffee shop where I hang out is abuzz with meetings and gatherings. Familiar faces, but folks who are busy developing new programs and taking on long standing problems.

“We can do it,” is the attitude now around here, and changes are coming, driven by a common desire to do something meaningful and make this corner of the world a better place.

It is fundamental change, not from the top down, not from the politicians in Washington, but instead, its coming from my neighbors, and my community, and those quiet conversations next to me in the coffee shop.

–Neal Lemery 5/3/16