Friday, December 16, 2011

On The Street

Well. There is so much to do, this time of year, that blogging falls very low on the priority list. I've been madly knitting a blanket, for an urchin (see note) who arrived several weeks earlier than I was expecting. The blanket is 92% complete, and I have wild hopes of finishing it this weekend. I also have hopes of putting up and decorating our tree, baking cookies, and shopping for Christmas Eve dinner, along with my normal weekend volunteering and church-going. (I also have hopes that my work pager will be silent.)

We did get Christmas cards finished, and most of our shopping is done. Oh. I do have one more gift shopping errand for tomorrow. And oh. Jim and I should practice the piece he is singing on Sunday.

We have managed to stay more or less on top of laundry and dishes and such, and Bonnie has enjoyed regular walks (really, those walks are a self-defense measure; she becomes impossible to live with if she doesn't get out regularly).

Right now I am waiting for Jim to come home, and will try to quickly put down some thoughts about a book of poetry, On The Street, by Marianne Novak Houston (the book includes photography by Anthony B. Graves).

A few months ago, the Kalamazoo Gazette ran a letter to the editor. The letter’s author was concerned about the homeless population in Kalamazoo, and felt that their presence was a detriment to our community. He wanted the city to find a way to hide or to get rid of “those people.”

When we reduce people to a meaningless group, to “those people,” it is easy to judge and then dismiss them. Archie Bunker was famous for this; he was notorious for labeling people and putting them in boxes. He recognized groups, but not individuals.

I think that was the problem with our letter writer. He looked at the homeless, made some assumptions, and put them in a box. And even if we're not as bad as Archie, or as the Gazette's letter-writer, we can still fall into the trap of seeing labels, instead of individuals.

Houston's book takes people out of that box, and lets them again become individuals. For example, here’s one of her poems, that turns one of “those people,” Lucino, into an individual.
by Marianne Novak Houston

When I was little
down in Mississippi
we had so much fun.
We had the greatest house,
an old trailer house in the middle of a field
we were packed in like sardines in a can,
– that’s what Mama called us, her sardines! –
and we laughed a lot at night in our beds
and worked really hard during the day
on the man’s farm.
We ate corn morning, noon and night
and made clabber with buttermilk
when we had it
and Daddy said that’s why we all grew tall.
But that was later.

One day when I was ten
a big ol’ tornado blew up
and blew our house clean away
and left us layin’ in the ditch
where Mama and Daddy stuffed us
when the wicked wind rose up.

And then began our wandering years.

Trouble is, we seem to have wandered off
in all directions

or maybe I’m the only one
still wandering.
We meet these folks in the street, strangers to us, and we avert our eyes, fearful - but of what? That they will speak to us, ask something of us, invade our comfort zone? We would do well to remember the words of John, as recorded in 1 John 4:18-21:
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

We love him, because he first loved us.

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
Maybe in this Christmas season, we can give up judging each other, and instead be brave enough to make eye contact, and acknowledge that - whatever our differences - we have in common that we are children of God, who loves us all. Perhaps we can then take the next step, and try loving each other as He does.

As these lyrics propose,
So grant us all a change of heart
Rejoice for Mary's son;
Pray, Peace on earth to all mankind
God bless us everyone!

Note 1:
I don't normally refer to my grand-nephews as urchins; this was the label given him by his nearly two-year-old brother.

Note 2: In Kalamazoo, you can find Houston's book at Michigan News. All profits go to Ministry with Community, whose mission is “to provide food, daytime shelter and other basic services to central Kalamazoo's homeless, poor, mentally ill and hard-to-serve adults. Through community cooperation, we provide these services in an atmosphere of dignity, hope and unconditional acceptance.”

There’s also a Facebook page:

Note 3:  The lyrics are from the song God Bless us Everyone, by Nick and Tony Bicat. This song is featured in A Christmas Carol (the 1984 TV movie, starring George C. Scott).


  1. I've spent mental energy this year than ever on the question on homelessness. What a remarkable poem. Thanks for sharing.

  2. "Inasmuch as ye did it unto the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me."

  3. Laura's latest efforts have yielded "Chris-urchin." Within a few days of that Laura became convinced that M can say his name, but has already figured out that his rendition is more entertaining.

  4. Jon - Kids are so smart, aren't they? They quickly figure out what works to their advantage!