Happy Days of Thanksgiving, everyone. Not just one day, but all the days of your life. The leaves above have kept their color though night temperatures are in the 20s.
I was thrilled to open up the Washington Post a few days ago and find on the front page of their digital edition this article about a soup kitchen. Not just any soup kitchen, but the Stone Soup Café in Greenfield, which some of us began in Montague many years ago before it moved to Greenfield.
When it was in Greenfield, Green River Zen Center used to sit on Saturday mornings and then proceed to the Café a few blocks away to help with the cooking, setting up, and serving. The writer doesn’t mention the council that followed the meals, where people could share, from a very deep place in their heart, the challenges they faced day by day.
The vision was dignity and egalitarianism. “I want a place where you sit and eat delicious food and you don’t know whether your server is an ex-con or a millionaire because everyone is treated with respect and dignity,” Bernie said again and again.
This article highlighted people with hard backgrounds of homelessness, addictions, and prison who found a refuge in the Café, and then turned around and made it a refuge for others.
I think we started this almost 15 years ago. People can turn their lives around, one meal at a time. Yes, we need food (when I cooked there years ago I saw farmers bringing in fresh organic produce they’d harvested that very morning), but we also need each other. We need to see respect in each other’s eyes and share.
The Greenfield community came together around the Café. Volunteers, local businesses and social services, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, and a couple of amazing leaders (looking at you, Ariel Pliskin and Kirsten Levitt) not only made it work and kept it going, but most important, maintained the vision that had been at the inception. I wish Bernie was around to hear what has happened from that vision; in some shape or other, he knows.
A reader complained that I was writing too much about immigrant families who’d come here illegally, not to mention that they don’t speak English. That’s true, too many of them are barely literate in their own language, never mind English, since they dropped out of school by the age of 10 to help their families, if they attended school at all. I highly doubt they were able to go to night school to study English before coming here.
There’s such a disconnect between our lives and theirs. This is not the place for me to recapitulate what it was like for me to come to this country as a young girl (legally), only to say that even at the age of 7 I knew in every bone in my body that the American children I met had no idea what it was like to grow up in a different country where there were enemies at the border, food was rationed, and anxiety reigned.
When I hear stories of what these families have gone through to come here, young boys and girls crossing hundreds of miles on their own, foraging for food, worrying about safety, I’ve often asked myself how their parents ever let them undertake such a trip: Didn’t they love them? Didn’t they want to protect them, as do other parents? Those stories give me a small measure of the poverty and want they left behind. As dangerous as the trip here was, they had nothing to lose because back home terror, poverty, and hunger were a certainty.
Can I tell you these immigrants are perfect, that they lead model lives with love and integrity? Absolutely not. I hear stories of husbands leaving wives and children behind, domestic violence and abuse, not to mention that covid affected their children much as it has affected others. “The kids now coming into 8th grade are still sixth-graders emotionally because they lost at least 18 months of social learning and interaction,” said one teacher. They do Tik-Tok, too, and the parents are called in for urgent conferences with teachers just like everybody else.
If it was just a matter of helping wonderful people, who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity? But it never is like that because people are people. That’s why the role of the Bodhisattva is messy, not clean. There are no clear perpetrators and no clear victims, no villains and no righteous martyrs. In the middle of the mess, we chart our course.
Farms have closed down with Thanksgiving and ahead of farmworkers here is a cold, dark winter. I’m grateful to be called to help. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be asked to stretch and witness lives lived vastly differently from mine. Wednesday evenings with Jimena and the community help my own self-centered walls recede a little bit each time, opening up the world beyond my small life, helping me see something beyond my own narrow horizons. I’ve helped them—you’ve helped them—but they have given me infinitely more.
On that note, Christmas is coming, so once again, here is an Amazon wish list compiled by children for a gift they’d like for the holidays. When parents have limited choices on how to spend meager funds, children can’t count on gifts. Please open this link and find something you’d like to buy for 6 year-old Danny (Bubble Mower for Toddlers), Reyli (Light-up Soccer Ball), 4 year-old Daniela (Lulu Achoo Doll), 5 year-old Marisol (My Sweet Love Happy Twin Play Set), and others.
When I open these up I feel transported to a brave new world of color, fantasy, hope and yearning. Here is the link again. Please choose the gift(s) you can afford for children who have so little. Who knows whether such gift-giving won’t yield the same far-reaching results that Stone Soup Café has achieved till now?
May all our hopes and wishes be fulfilled in like manner.
You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.