Tuesday, December 21, 2010

writer's song

A symmetry boggles over a snag.
within it's means to converse with nag
in times of trouble sourly sag
the tempest rage at the quarterly jag.
In this life I have been hated by many peoples. I've come to realize I no longer have time to waste wondering if charity and generosity is in fact charity and generosity. If it isn't then they should not have claimed it as such. I no longer care not out of a cold heart but out of a tougher exterior. I learned at five what it was to be hated and despised. Now as my life reaches it's mid way point and I begin at last a novel I feel confident in, that I simply no longer spare thought to those little devises of people who seek something in return other than what I already am. Those that seek my enslavement will not get it but I will pour out my gratitude as water on thirsty plants. With this alone must they be satisfied and many, I've learned, are not. Too many give in order to be recognized as saints and martyrs, they seek control, accolades, status. Too many give with hearts closed to the joy the act alone can give. I never realized just how much a simple act can do. Not until I wrote this:


A month ago, sitting in my living room at five AM, I listened to the television preacher talk about tithing. I believe in signs and after a month of all the preachers talking about meditation on the word found this time to do it. They rarely all talked about the same thing at once. Now it had happened again.
“Tithing?” I think. “God, I have just enough money to last the year. If I give up a single cent I’ll be broke before I can blink. How am I supposed to give back?” The darker worry pushed through. What if the money runs out before I’m published? The message was clear. Tithe. The method was not. Then the school councilor asked my mother for my help stuffing backpacks. So every Friday I’m here to help. I’m here to tithe the only thing I can. My time.
Karen, the secretary, smiles and greets me enthusiastically. She prints out my name tag. She thanks me for helping out. I walk around the desk and grab the bin of backpacks. I walk them down the hall. The chatter of students and teachers mingles as I pass.
The empty science lab shuts out the noise and I begin stacking the back packs according to the number printed on the side. No names are involved. The backpacks, like over sized corn husks, swing from bin to table and three stacks begin to take shape. One, two, three is missing; I’ve never seen all thirty at once. Several are missing. I count, stack them together with a shushing sound, the canvas rubbing the plastic. The bin empties. Time for phase two.
Banana boxes, stacked in the corner, contain hope. I lift the lid on the first box with the sigh of cardboard. Inside rest treasures shielded by clear plastic ice bags with goofy looking polar bears. Food. I’ve come across bags with broken contents that have leaked and soured before. I hope there isn’t one this week. The bags aren’t heavy. They seem small. Milk, juice, macaroni, oatmeal and a couple of fruit cups catch my eye. I know there are other things in the bag but I try not to look too hard. I might cry. I listen instead to the crackle of the thick plastic as I lay the bags on a table. I see only the bright colors of what’s inside. Will it be enough?
I stop after the table is laden. Then I begin stuffing the backpacks. I unzip the first one and smell stale cigarette smoke. How many packs do they buy, I wonder and shove the thought away as I slide the contents in. Number one begins a line on the floor. The next one smells like sweat, this one has three cookies worth of crumbs rattling in the front pocket. Line one fills out. The spots where backpacks are missing are taken up by the contents they would have contained. All ten spots are filled. I return to the tower of cardboard, dry like leaves, the plastic a strange wet contrast. I repeat the process. I need to tell them this backpack has a hole. Line two is done. I empty the last of the boxes and move on to line three.
The routine differs this time. I lift the first backpack and hear a jingle. Giving the backpack a shake I hear the music of money. My practiced hand tells me the bag is heavier than usual. The front pocket reveals hidden treasure. Inside is a jumble of bright colors and sounds. A carnival. A wooden yoyo, a toy truck, and a plastic frog clack together. A school note with its printed letters shifts with a rasp hiding other things. Under all the joy is a mix of coins. I stare. Is this horde special? The child in me wants to handle the toys, count the coins, read the note but the adult in me knows this would be an invasion of privacy. I zip the pocket shut, sealing away the wealth this child has hidden or forgotten. Will it be there next week?
The sounds of my work, soothing and sad, return to their norm. The shush of canvas, the buzz of zippers, the crunch of the plastic and my footsteps on the tile all blend together as I work. I’m done in twenty minutes, long before the deadline, all the backpacks and naked bags sitting in three straight lines ready for delivery. I lift the empty bin and stare at my work. I followed the directions given me on that first day. Karen thanks me with a warmth I feel is undeserved. After all, I’m only tithing. 
I wrote this piece not wanting recognition because to me it is a small thing I do.  I've never seen nor will I see the children these gifts go to. This work, this tithing, I feel is so small so weak a gesture. I wish to do more but at the same time I know these things must be done with slow deliberation else they fail and be discarded by the wayside; good works stillborn in the hands of those who moved too swiftly into the meat of charity. 
I'm not a saint nor will I ever earn such a lofty title. I want this piece to be seen by others so they know there is hope. I want them to see and know that charity starts with that one small step. In these the most oppressive of times there is something we can do. There is a tiny difference we can make. All is not lost when we use our hands, our backs, our strength to pass along a kindness. No more hate need pass the lintel of your door. I know I've shut mine to it at last.

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