Friday, October 3, 2014

A Sense of Thrift

During a fair bit of  the last 20 years, I have been a  sponsor or volunteer at local shelters for the physically abused, many also homeless. People ask why I do it, as it is often depressing, and sometimes futile.

The women there who have been abused (though abuse goes both ways, men also a victim of it) present an image to the world that is often one of stone, hiding the pain, hiding the bruises, until eventually, one night, the stone is shattered by the fury of a long fall or a storm surge. Sometimes it's simply eroded away, what is unique, distinct, worn away over time, as if by water, drop by ceaseless drop. Perhaps with those who will listen and support, some of whom have been there, a little of what is left can be reclaimed, still capable of beauty.

Some of them will go back, the fear of the unknown overwhelming, the knowledge that someone, otherwise, will wish them, forever, anything but peace.  Peace is not often plentiful.  I could almost always guess which ones would go back, they wore that quality of outworn violence like perfume, drawn back to the evangelical zeal of their abuser, simply too tired to fight any longer. It was often a fatal mistake, realized too late, as they were borne beyond the hurt and harm of man, into the ground.

Better they said, to go back, then live homeless. Some escape, but live for years with their scars.  Those scars are apparent to some, who try and offer a healing balm, but to others they are but a rattlers warning, a bite to those that don't understand their pain.
Many of us already live homeless. Not in our dwelling, but in the neighborhood of our true self. We spend years trying to change someone, only to realize the only thing that could change was ourselves. We spend so much time chasing after things, that we ignore what we have here now.

Some of the unhappiest people I know, have the most expansive and expensive of possessions. I sold or gave away most of mine two years ago, downsizing to a life much simpler.  I sometimes look at pictures of that home, the two story entryway, the three car garage, and have a twinge of regret, but not very often. I could stay in that house and my world would revolve around its upkeep while it's value just went down in a crashing marketplace.  Or I could pay off debt, learn to do the things to sustain, not just consume. I  could ensure Dad could stay in his home as his health declined. I could spend time with people who were important, not just labor for the upkeep of those walls.

I don't own a lot, but if the world falls to ruin tomorrow, I will still have food to eat, a modest roof over my head and the knowledge and means to know enough to protect it.
My parents always helped those that help themselves. Dad, getting his CPA after the military, did income taxes for free for the elderly. He was active in the church and in other organizations, living his life in a brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God, as he would say if you asked him. Mom, as well, volunteered at the church and at the local hospital.

There, she was the Tel-Med operator, where people could call and request recordings on medical topics from a published directory that had the topic by number. There was everything from child illnesses, cancer screening, nutrition and baby care to several on sexual issues and other embarrassing personal topics people might be too shy to ask the doctor about.  Dad would disguise his voice and call when she was there and request those "special" numbers just to hear her stammer "thank you" as she was turning red, then she'd exclaim "Bud, it's you isn't it!" and they'd both laugh. But I know he respected her for that volunteer work, even as she herself was battling cancer.
 
My early career days were such I couldn't volunteer but I did sponsor a child through one of the Christian children's charities, just enough to provide for some schooling and at least one hot, nourishing meal a day. Sponsors were allowed to give extra money, with the stipulation that it would meet a specific need, not to be squandered. So one time, when bills were light, I sent a few hundred dollars I had saved up, with a specific need in mind.

I got a letter back from the little girl I sponsored in Africa , Louise Marie, hand written, with colorful crayon drawings of a little house with a roof and a door, with little Crayola cartoon chickens and smiling children gathered round.  You see, before the gift, her family had been living on the ground, in a lean-to, her widowed mother's $50 a month income as a sustenance farmer not enough for real shelter. With the money, and the assistance of the charitable foundation, they built a house.  It wasn't a house like you and I expect to live in. But it was a grand house to them, with four walls to protect them from those that would rob or hurt, a floor and a real roof to keep the water and elements out.
Some folks would say I spend too much money on firearms or tools. I don't mind spending money for something that has a use, retains its value and can be passed down to generations. I have absolutely no issues with spending money on those tools that can protect my life and others.  I have a hard time spending money on just "stuff". A woman I knew from a community organization, proudly showed off her $500 designer purse one day.  She has about 20 purses (I'm not kidding), but this one was special because, well. . . . it was $500!

I don't have a $500 purse. Until I was in my late 20's I didn't even have a $500 car.  But I have friends that share my table that would take a bullet for me to keep me safe. I have the openness of the horizon, and the strength of my free will. I have freedom, I have balance and I have people that share my life that totally understand this. For this I am grateful and try to do what I can to give some of that back.
Hopefully, most of you won't ever get to the point where you have nothing left of yourself but the letters of your name and what you can shove in a suitcase. Most of you won't give away most of your stuff and totally change how you live, when you don't have to. But when you do pare down, by circumstance or by choice, it is quietly liberating, as you discover just what it is that was, still is, precious to you, what is worth your time and attention.

Thoreau once said "The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.". That  meant little to me when I first read it in English class. It would mean little to people who have had everything handed to them, with little effort,  the cost of their education, their sustenance, their lifestyle. After years of sweat, tears and hard work, I understood, having long ago severed ties with things, even people, who gave me only pain for my efforts, for in the end, such things, by their exchange, violated my sense of thrift.
As the rumble of thunder creeps in on the horizon, I look out towards the trees, to the chattering of birds as I step outside with a furry little Rescue dog.  On the ground two doves, who when Abby approaches them, run, don't fly away, their brain not sensing the danger.  Fortunately she shows no interest in their harm.  Above, two cardinals flutter like two tiny flags amongst the branches, then fly away, as if the wind dispersed them like small scraps of cloth.  On the railing, a small sparrow, looking a little worse for wear, looking at the empty feeder, watching me carefully, wondering if I will harm or help. On the air the echo of all of their cries, mournful and plaintive, barely heard above the wind.

I think of the Bible Verse "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?"  I look at the fridge, as I enter my home, to a little picture, drawn with the colors of hope.

Today, I live so much more simply, surrounding myself with those with whom I share personal history as well as those possessions which I know serve a useful function.  On days where doubt raises its head, as to my worth, as to my place in the world, I simply look at that little picture and smile broadly, no longer hearing the echo of invisible bruises. Life is a risk, never a possession, live, and love, accordingly.