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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sanctuary


Stained glass,
Peace white dove in flight, bright star
beckoning. Crown of tormenting thorns.
Shrouded crucifix, shadow of sacrifice, the
ark lumbers or’ fathomless depths, onward toward humanity.
 Nourishing sheaf of wheat. Kingdom crown, flesh white lilies, eternal
blue, vaulted sky, scudding cirrus, painted by the hands of
craftsmen.  Stainless and majestic organ pipes
stand clarion above innocent white gowns, knowing black robes, scrubbed and glowing faces.  A solitary cane
rests … leaning in a corner. Yellow morning light bathes congregant heads
bowed in humility.  Renewed hearts join. Faithful gathering place. There …
the cross … forever living by the hand of God and in the hearts of humankind.

Room In the Inn


For a few years now I have gone to the church periodically in the winter months and slept there with the homeless. We place mattresses in the gym and cover them with sheets and blankets. They are fed well and have a quiet, protected night. Most fall asleep after a shower and their bellies are full of warm food. I am usually tired from the workday yet without fail feel surprisingly ok to attend to the various tasks at hand.

What strikes me now as I sit here in the gym foyer and the night winds down is how we tend to see one another. There are conversations that begin awkwardly. Some become relaxed and informative. Others reveal the years of dysfunction and the toll of a chronically homeless existence. There is usually at least one man that is higher maintenance asking for extras, testing boundaries, needing attention. Most are quietly reflective. They are tired and somehow, at least at first, they seem unsure of our true intent.

We’ll all rise early in the morning. The lights will come up. They’ll drink coffee and eat breakfast. The white van will pull up to the gym doors. Heads hanging a little they’ll trudge to the van and climb in. It will be time to go back into their raw, unprotected existence.

Once they are crammed tightly in with their sparse luggage on their laps I’ll stick my head in and tell them that I love them. Without fail there will be weak chorus back to me … “We love you too, sir. Thank you … for everything.” Then I will imagine them exiting the bus down at the bus station and wonder what goes through their minds.

On the way home I’ll feel a little fuzzy from lack of sleep. Funny though … I’ll often sing a hymn or say a prayer out loud as I speed down the expressway back to my family and warm, cozy life. Then I will think of them and know that we are all better for having encountered each other if only for a brief while. I’ll thank God for letting me do this thing that gives me so much more than I could ever give them.

We Remember


     
  I have thought of you often over the years. When I was a child we scurried through the woods with our muskets made of sticks imagining tri-cornered hats and knee britches. We pretended to be like you: valiant and brave, resisting the redcoats from behind rock and tree.

  Later we played with our blue and gray plastic soldiers, each the size of a bullet. We organized field battles. Cannon were lined up aimed at ranks of men as they moved forward into the maw.

  One day the Indians surrounded you as you stood back to back … holding out. I saw the Indian warrior too. It was just as good to be an Indian sometimes.

  Years passed as I watched you fighting in the movies. I devoured each scene as from every branch of military service you offered your lives in the name of God and country. Honor and dignity would swell in my bony chest. I wanted to be like you.

  I saw you on television crouching through the jungle. The helicopters brought you in with guns blazing. Then they came and carried you away … sometimes prostrate … bleeding.

  I went on a ship far away. No, I did not stare death in the face as you did. I saw its wake. I tasted its devastation. I sensed its presence but I did not have to smell its breath as you did.

   I saw the look in a young marine’s eyes as he readied to go “in country” on a night recon. I still see him there in the top rack like a small child in a man’s body looking over the bunk bed rail when he thinks the “boogey man” is in the closet.

  I saw you when the high school hero strode into the VA office.  For a moment he knew me … then he saw something in the air … he was remembering. He forgot what he came for. He walked away … head down … mumbling to himself.

  I saw you in your wheelchair at the local pub. We drank too much as you tried to forget the moment you became broken.

  Today I see you in the deserts, mountains and cities; fighting, protecting, healing, building.

   I see you at the stoplight, in the park, in the pew at church.

  You are revered and held high in our minds and hearts. Regardless of politics or history, right or wrong, you have sacrificed for the benefit of your fellows.

   When I was a child, I pretended to be like you … valiant and brave. Wherever you are …  please know this … we remember. We see you with our hearts. We are eternally grateful.