On any given moment as I traverse our beautiful Sonoma square a dozen emotions can rise – amazement that the square is unscathed, sadness for the many children who lost their homes but still decorate the square with their art, hope for the world if one community can find a way through devastation with grace, fear at the ease with which our worlds can erupt, guilt for still having a home, impotence at not knowing how to help more.
This is real life. These feeling are appropriate in Puerto Rico, in Sudan, in Syria and Houston. The guilt and impotence could rise in a walk in Oakland, where the homeless camps have grown near the freeways, in Santa Rosa where miles have been destroyed by fire, in Iran, where the earthquake left thousands homeless.
What do we do?
Write a check? Get on a plane across the world to volunteer? Pressure congress to treat Puerto Rico like is it part of our nation (which it is). Serve lunch at a shelter? All of the above?
This year, I wrote some checks, volunteered a little, sent letters to congress occasionally and prayed. It feels meager, even miserly, in the face of my still-standing home, my full larder, my relatively healthy body.
I am ready to take on a larger burden. Except I don’t think it will be a burden. I know from the past that real service is good food for my soul, and I will feel not burdened but lightened by sense of purpose, even if it is a relatively small purpose.
There are so many among us who dedicate their lives to protecting our planet, to serving the poor, to fighting fires metaphorically in every part of the world.
There were times in my life that I counted myself among them. Serving homeless families for long days in a basement of a church. Sleeping on a sidewalk for months in protest of our state’s investments in South Africa. Taking care of twelve little girls at a time as they experienced nature for the first time, far from their homes in the city. Shepherding dozens of teens through the perils of college applications, without a parent. Perusing laundromats for low income young mothers who might need help, and offering them healthcare. Taking a group of five year old in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco to get their first library card. They were the clearest, most meaningful and joyful times of my life.
This past Saturday night in the Sonoma Square, the community gathered and celebrated the lights being lit on the square. A young girl took the stage and sang to us. Among the scent of hot chocolate, cider and wine. Despite the noise of running children, traffic and many humans in a small space. In a pretty white dress and with a brave smile, she sang boldly, offering a beautiful, heart opening rendition of Silent Night.
She had lost her home, but dedicated the song to her neighbor, who had saved her dog.
She is my inspiration as I roll up my sleeves for the next opportunity to serve. We don’t stop singing the face of devastation. When we lose our home, we thank God for our dog. And in the chaos and jumble of life, we return to our faith, which for her is the story of a baby being born on a cold winter’s night.