I walked with Harry and Aussie up a narrow canyon a week ago, hills sloping up on the right, tall gray cliffs on the left. It was still cold, and since the canyon doesn’t get much sun there were spots of snow and ice. No one else walked that morning, people are careful in my neck of the woods.
Suddenly the dogs huddled around a large rock, sniffing. I drew close, bent down, and heard a loud moan. Around me everything was frozen and still. I listened harder, and realized it was the sound of water—a lot of water—spilling and gushing down invisible beneath the hard earth and rocks. There was lots of movement under all that immovability.
I feel like that in this season of coronavirus. We stay home, we don’t hang out and talk over coffee, we don’t walk or drive much on the streets, you don’t see movement. But that doesn’t mean movement is not there. It doesn’t mean people aren’t opening their eyes and changing their behavior. A lot is happening, even if for now it feels invisible and subterranean.
Zen always talks about life and death. Not the death that happens at the end of life, but the life and death of every moment: every moment a new birth, every moment a new death. If we could see the life and death of each moment then we lose our fear of death, but we have to really pay attention. The challenge is always how to pay attention in the middle of work, raising a family, taking care of self, children, partners, parents, community.
People are paying plenty of attention now. “The theme is right in front of us,” a friend told me today. We don’t have to pull at anybody and say: Hold on a minute, pay attention!, They’re paying attention, all right! They know whose life is on the line.
I went to pick up dog food today and noticed how carefully people walked around each other, masked, clearly understanding the impact they have on the life of strangers. We depend on one another, we need one another, we don’t exist without one another. It’s self-evident. What could be better?
Yesterday I hurried to Turners Falls to meet my friend. I had 10 $50 gift cards from two neighboring supermarkets with me, along with some cash of my own. The latter is to help a family that is losing their apartment and needs to move, which means raising first-month rent, last-month rent, and security (standard for this area), so I donated cash for that. But food is what counts, and food is what I plan to help the families get with these gift cards.
I could have brought more with the money readers have sent me, but I wanted to see how it would go this first time; I was also pretty sure I would be distributing more cards next week, and the week after.
My friend dialed some numbers on her phone, and in two minutes a young woman came, huddled in a jacket. Several minutes later another woman appeared, and then another. They live in small apartments nearby and came out quickly when called.
I started stammering in my Pimsleur Spanish. The conversation was almost always this way:
“Hola, me llamo Eva.”
Their name was Maria, Rosa, Rosita, Anna, Sandra, Marta, etc.
“Esta bien, y su familia?”
Yes, they’re well, and so is the family. They have 2 children, 3 children, 4 children. They are all home.
I tell them in my bad Spanish how my friends (that’s how I think of you, blog readers) have given money to help them get food.
They say gracias in so many ways, not just with words but with their eyes. One starts crying.
I feel self-conscious. They’re human beings, I’m a human being, who needs thanks?
“I want them to meet you,” my friend said. “And I want you to meet them.” The food was important, but so is the meeting.
We all need help right now, I assure them. It’s difficult now.
Yes, they agree, it’s very hard now. Some of the men can still work in farms, but many are cutting back and some farms won’t hire at all right now. Other jobs are nonexistent. Restaurants and cafes where they washed dishes are closed; schools are closed.
The schools continue to provide lunches for their children; for other meals they use food pantries. “Only the children don’t always like the food from food pantries,” one explains, “and we don’t get fruit.” She wants to use the food card to buy fruit for the children.
My friend explains that the families are getting tablets for the kids so they could do online learning, but most don’t have Internet connection, only now Comcast has agreed to provide 2 months’ service for free and then charge $10 a month. “That’s pretty good,” I tell them. Yes, they nod, it’s very important for the children to keep on learning.
I used to drive some of the women with their children to doctor appointments a while ago. “How are they now?” I ask. They shrug. Now is no time to bring anyone to a doctor or to a hospital.
“I’ll be here again next week,” I promise them. I have money for more food cards for about two weeks. After that, I don’t know. Besides, my friend says she knows 32 families who could use this kind of help; we only helped 10 this time.
Dear reader, there is a challenge here we must meet. It’s easy to push to redistribute the money of multi-billionaires; we have to start with ourselves. People hide out not just because they’re illegal but also because they’re poor. In this country we are ashamed of being poor. I can’t photograph them, I can’t get their personal stories (at least, not yet), I don’t even ask them their last names.
There are terrible things going on down by the Mexican border, people turned back without a hearing, separation of families, etc. It has long been a thorn at my heart, but there’s not much I can do about it right now. What I can do is help put food on the table of families hiding out right here, trying to create a decent life for their children.
My parents were refugees. I look at those women who came out to thank me and I want to thank them, because I feel that I am helping out my own parents who were once in their place.
If you’d like to help me continue to do this, please donate and put on the notation: Food gift cards. I looked into whether one could buy gift cards online. One supermarket doesn’t do that. The other does, but when I tried to do it myself the page didn’t work. I will call them about it tomorrow.