HOW FAR ARE WE?

Aussie hiding from the heat

“Your sister was here earlier,” my mother tells me on the phone from Jerusalem  (I check in with her every other day). “We talked about how much harder things are getting in the world.”

“Yes, mom,” I agree as I look out at the big rain finally coming down in Western Massachusetts. We haven’t had such a thorough drenching in a long time. The flowers are happy, while Aussie and Harry lie disconsolate on chair and floor.

“Eve, do me a favor, you’ve always been the writer in our family. You must write what I’m saying.”

“What’s that, mom?”

“You must tell people how important it is to do good for each other. Things won’t get so bad as long as we do good for each other.”

“Yes, mom,” I say, and for a moment I think about Donald Trump, who has evoked the economy every chance he gets since 2016, as if that’s the only thing that matters. Right now people need help for sure, they need the economy to recover. But the economy is never the only thing that matters.

Traditionally, historians say, when the economy is strong the incumbent party wins the presidential election (an exception was the election of 2000). In America, they say, nothing matters to voters like the economy. Is that so? Will it always be so?

But my mother has left me behind. “Look, Eve, I feel so close to you, see? Can’t you tell? It’s like you’re right here in the room with me even though—how far away are we? How many miles?”

“At least 7,000 miles,” I tell her.

“But see how close we are to each other even talking like this on the phone? I can feel you. Can you can feel me?”

“Yes.”

“That’s always been the spirit between us. So now, carry the spirit into your writing. Tell people they should take care of each other. God will bless your efforts, you will see.”

I hang up the phone. The rain continues loudly outside, leaves rustling a racket, but inside it’s quiet. I still hear her voice, the passion she put into her words. Her voice was often passionate and emphatic in the past, but telling me to write in her name—”You are a better writer than I am!”—to tell people to take care of each other is something new.

Her mind is disintegrating, I remind myself. In the beginning of the conversation she was telling me how beautifully her grandchildren sing to her, but whether she’s referring to her grandchildren or, more likely, her great-grandchildren, I know they don’t visit her. So whom is she hearing?

We are so close, you and I. How many miles? 7,000?

Yesterday Jimena and I gave out more food cards, this time in a different town than usual. I wasn’t sure this was a good idea. “Let’s focus on the same families and maybe make a real difference,” I suggested (she says we’ve been helping over 90 families till now). But she asked me just this once to help with another community of undocumented families, and I agreed.

Usually it takes a while till people walk over to collect their cards. This time there was a crowd in the school parking lot before either she or I arrived, and once she came, it went very fast:

“This is my friend, Eva,” Jimena would say in Spanish, and I’d say “Hola” and they would introduce themselves: Rosa, Carlos, Elena, Gabriella, Jose, Cesar, Julieta. They’re accompanied by small children, who usually have very American names: Jennifer, Ashley, Bethany, Jessica. Everyone wears masks.

“This is a gift from my friends,” I tell them, handing out food cards.

A woman comes, in her 30s, a bashful smile. Jimena says that she’s new here, just arrived from Honduras, two weeks after crossing the border. I’d like to know how she did it, but others are waiting. We give her a card; she’ll also receive $150 for help with start-up rent and utilities. Another $50 in cash for another utility bill and Jimena provides receipts.

Luz (not her real name) has three children and no husband. She worked in a restaurant and got paid under the table, but restaurants are closed except for take-out. Where does she get any money at all, I ask Jimena. Yes, they often have families that help, but how much? And how much can you work with three children at home?

The school is deserted but we have a real crowd.

“Se que no es mucho,” I say to a young woman with a little girl. I know that it isn’t much. $50 is $50, which is not pennies, and I know that small is never small, that you can never know how lengthy the reach of every single act of kindness. Nevertheless, seeing the crowd of people waiting to get these cards makes me wish I could do much more.

“For us it’s much,” says the woman back in English.

What is much? Money is not much; caring is much. It tells them that they are not alone, that people care, even people from far away whom they will probably never see, as far away as Europe, care what happens to them.

“You sound so close, how many miles is it?”

“7,000, mom.”

“But you sound so close.”

We’ve given well over $10,000 in food cards and cash till now, let’s not stop. You can donate for food cards and cash help to undocumented families by using the Donate button below and adding the instruction: For food cards. You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. On the memo line of the check, please write: For food cards. As my mother says, “God will bless your efforts, you will see.”