Sunday, December 9, 2012

“I cried because I had no shoes, then I met a man who had no feet.” Mahatma Gandhi

Yesterday I gave away a jacket that I bought at the Gap more than 20 years ago. Many times over the last 10 years when I’ve gone through my clothes to see what I am willing to give up, I’ve considered that jacket, deciding to hold onto it. Along with the jacket that was destined for the Rescue Mission here in Albuquerque, I filled up three 13-gallon bags with trousers and shirts. Some of the trousers were left over from my professional life—a time when I didn’t hesitate at dropping $100 on a silk tie or a commensurate amount on a pair of slacks or a blazer or suit. As if these leftovers are gold, I’ve hoarded them, for the last 12 years. But, as life would have it, the moths had a field day one year early in these 12 years. No surprise about the love of moths for wool—or rust that corrodes and ruins and “thieves that break in and steal” (Matthew 6: 19). In fairness to the truth, some of the clothing had already found its way to some thrift store or donation box.

Over the years, along with the periodic need to just clean things out a little, disasters of one kind or another have beckoned to my closet. I remember well Hurricane Rita from the season of 2005 that particularly affected the Gulf Coast. I boxed clothes, boots and shoes and took them to the center in a small town some 45 miles north of my home in rural east Texas. Any time, any season is a worthy time to edit one’s closet, in spite of what my frugal Texas German mother used to caution me when I was in one of my moods to thin out my closet. I wouldn’t be getting rid of everything—an exaggeration, of course—you might wish you had that stuff one of these days. She advised regarding her own clothes that she no longer wore—”you can give it away when I die.” That’s what we did, and we did it with gentleness and mindfulness.

A sense of mindfulness has been a part of every effort I’ve made to thin out my closets—which I now have both in Texas and New Mexico. In spite of these efforts, the closets remain too full—the clothes, the boots and shoes, still too many. Excess upon excess, even though by comparison I’m probably not as serious a culprit as I imagine. Regardless, excess is still excess.

At this time of the year we are reminded of the role consuming plays in our lives. I’ve walked the aisles of Walmart. With only modest exceptions, my humble efforts at gift giving are not defined by the perceived needs or wants of my family, however. Even though we have many individual needs, all of us have shelter and food, and most importantly we have each other. I’ve shared my own gifts in buying coats for kids as part of the campaign of one of the television stations here in Albuquerque. Toys for Toys, a cash donation for one of the food pantries, lap robes, socks and body lotion for residents of a nearby nursing home, shirts and socks for a senior whose name was placed on the Christmas tree at Walmart, excess from my closet for a homeless shelter—that’s my list. It’s not enough. It can never be enough. I’ll do my best to accept that.

Recently in the news, much has been made over the New York policeman who spent $75 on a pair of boots and socks for a barefoot homeless man. As it turns out, all is not what it seems. The man is not homeless, and even though he received a pair of boots and socks, he is shoeless once again. His circumstances are way more complicated. Apparently he hid the shoes because they are “valuable”. And, of course, the turn of events of the story have once again given anyone who wants or needs to justify his or her reasons for not reaching out to the poor, the homeless, those in need. In an opinion piece by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, Senior Religion Editor for the Huffington Post: “Yes, we have a responsibility to ask the questions of why people are poor, to lobby for better treatment of the poor, to support agencies that who [sic] have expertise with the poor, but we also should be inspired to give directly to the poor. Not because it is the most effective, but because the direct encounter with those who are suffering, and the courage to give without controlling how it is received is important for our own spiritual well being.

The homeless man in New York responded to the policeman’s “offer to buy shoes by saying ‘God bless you’. When we overcome our city honed instinct of isolation and suspicion to do an act of kindness and show compassion to the stranger it is, in that moment, a blessing experienced by both the giver and receiver.” (I need to add that this instinct for isolation and suspicion is in no way limited to something that is “city honed”. Cynicism thrives way beyond the boundaries of the city.)

Mr. Raushenbush goes on to conclude, “In this messy world, that is more than enough.”

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