I’ve been staring at the sky a lot this month. I think it’s because it’s been unseasonably warm, and I am usually way too cold when I’m outside in Dec. to amble and look up. It’s not only the stars that inspire. The cloud formations, the bluish light of the winter sun, the oversized pearly moon lurking above the horizon at 4 in the afternoon have all been sources of wonder this month.
Did you ever learn in music class to look up when you sang in order to amplify your voice? I think looking up when I think elevates my thoughts. Makes me rise above my petty little obsessions:
“why is the supermarket out of pine nuts?”
“when is that publisher going to get back to me?”
“did that waiter really call me M’am last night? What’s the good of that wrinkle cream?”
When I look at the sky more, I obsess less. I remember that these aren’t the live-or-die issues; that there a lot of us living under this sky who’d give a ransom to be concerned with the inavailability of pine nuts. Or actually, they’d be singing hosannahs if pine nuts were their only worry.
I volunteer in a nonprofit that helps folks in our community avoid eviction and keep the power on. We don’t have a lot of money, can’t do much more than that, can’t even do just that for everyone who asks. Yesterday I worked with 2 women, equally worthy, equally desperate. I was able to help one and not the other. I took the applications and told each what was needed to push their request through. One complied and was able to provide all the info I needed within the 90 minutes before my shift ended, the other couldn’t. For at least the rest of this month, I know when I look at the sky, I’ll be wondering about the woman I couldn’t help; wondering if she still has shelter, wondering if she’s safe. Praying that someone could help her when I couldn’t.
I’ve provided services to people in poverty on the behalf of non-profits and government agencies for about a third of my career. I am both hardened and softened by the experience. The hardened part allows me to cut through the complicated presentations of chaotic lives and find the match points for the help that’s available. It allows me to summarize these stories so that whover needs to approve their benefits can say yes. It also allows me to let go when we can’t help. Usually. Unless the softened part is saying “there but for fortune…” or “she sounds like my daughter” or “we’ve all made these mistakes and he’s really trying to set things right.”
It’s when the hardened and softened parts of me collide that I am reminded for the thousandth time how many crying needs the world has and how many roles are open. I find myself looking at the sky a lot. Feeling small and insignificant, searching for clues, as men always have, but also wondering how many others are staring at the sky.