Sunday, December 7, 2008

Other People

Other People, Part I

"When I say...that I write for myself, one of the things I mean is that much of the general readership journalism I write––reviews or articles--I write for smart, verbally adventurous kids such as I was."
--"The Situation of American Writing Today" (interview), in Delany's About Writing, which I wrote about a few posts below

What a relief, a reality check, to read this. I've been fretting over whether yesterday's post sounded antisocial, declaring that I write for myself *as a reader*. (Here in the Lutheran Midwest, saying you do anything for yourself is as bad as saying you don't bother washing your dishes for days, so I flinch a lot and practice bravery). Then today I sat down with the above book again and came across this sentence. (This collection is so full of interesting things I may have to buy a copy, a rare event, and stop mauling the library's.)

Far from sounding antisocial, to this reader the statement sounds generous: if you write for your bright young self, you take care.

Other People, II

I went to church this morning, the second Sunday in Advent. Not to Mass, but to the building. I have barely been to church in several years. I was helping bink with her holiday art sale.

We arrived at 7 a.m., out of the dark and snow. When we walked into the social hall, about thirty quiet men looked up, like deer, from tables where they sat.
Homeless shelters round here require people to vacate by 7 a.m., even on Sundays when there aren't many jobs to go to. Since it was 4 degrees F (-15 C), these guys who usually hang out under the nearby highway overpass were inside, with their duffel bags and backpacks, drinking church coffee with creamer.

Bink and I started to set up at one end of the room, and one of the men, a sturdy guy, came and helped us move furniture. Did we know where he could get a free coat? He'd just come from Mexico and only had a couple jackets he was wearing, one inside the other, and no money.

I used to work at this church, so I know Sunday can be the worst day to come looking for help because the focus is on parishioners, who already have coats. Social service programs run on weekdays.
I walked him, Roberto, he told me, up to the receptionist. I cut through the nave instead of going round outside. Mass had started--a reader was in the pulpit--and Roberto hesitated to go in. It's OK, I said, we'll sneak along the side aisle. He took off his watch cap and followed me.
The receptionist gave Roberto a hand-out bologna sandwich for later. In the donations closet there was a coat that fit him.

Walking back, he told me he had blisters from walking eleven hours to the U.S. border. A church there gave him a bus ticket up here. He didn't have money even for the city bus, so he was on foot again. He'd walked to the shelter last night.
"I have a family at home," he said. "I will find work." He could install carpets or anything, and he was going to try K-Mart right away.

The men dispersed before the first Mass ended and parishioners came in for coffee. I gave Roberto a few bucks for the bus and he gave me a hug.

When I got home, I looked up the readings for the second Sunday of Advent.
I wanted to know what we'd heard as we walked through the church looking for a coat.

This is it, the second reading, from 2 Peter 3:

What sort of persons ought you to be,
conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion,
waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God,
because of which the heavens will be dissolved in flames
and the elements melted by fire.
But according to his promise
we await new heavens and a new earth
in which righteousness dwells.
Therefore, beloved, since you await these things,
be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.


momo said...

dear dear fresca, this marvelous post gives me such pleasure. thank you for helping Roberto find a coat today. thank you for writing about it. thank you for putting SRD's words at the top of the post--he was writing for me, although he didn't know it, because I read every one of his books as they came out and they spoke to me.

Anonymous said...

okay, grrrl!

muchisimas gracias! your Roberto church on Sunday story has me shaking and crying!! We're all lucky there are people like you and others who are willing and often right there to do the good that is so necessary at any moment: writing, painting, dancing, singing, filming, sharing currency and coats and samwiches and housing!
you don't have to go to church to do good, but I know roberto's one who's glad you were there today!

Lovin' you!


Jennifer said...

The line between writing for yourself and writing for others is so thin and fine--I know I like the idea of it being a clear dichotomy, but it never is, it's wonderfully messy. :)

And thank you for Roberto's story and the reading that went with it so wonderfully... "Righteousness" is one of those Biblical words that resounds so deeply, I love it.

fresca said...

"Righteousness" used to bug me, sounding priggish, I thought, until someone suggested I translate it as "being in right alignment," [with truth, humor, Mercury, whatever]--alignment being a word that doesn't push any of my buttons.