There is no shame beneath this sky
I have kissed the past goodbye
And mended up my broken heart so torn.
–From Big Dream
I live about one mile from the heart of downtown Oklahoma City. The only grocery store in this area of town is the Homeland on Classen, which is frequented by both the poor and the prosperous. Lately, it’s been getting a little scary. Two weeks ago, a man grabbed the milk out of my cart as I exited the store. I said, “Get back here with my milk,” and he said, “I didn’t know you wanted it.” He put the milk back and moseyed along. I’m glad he didn’t shoot me.
Last week, I pulled into the parking lot as three employees chased down a thief. Two employees tried to pull him from his car as another fiddled with his tire. The guy nearly ran over all three of them. After that, I decided to stop going to Homeland. The decision lasted a whole 24 hours until I needed milk and eggs.
Social Security Checks Hit on the Third
As I walked into the store, a woman with a dog asked me for money for dog food. She was thin and gray and wore a dirty coat and combat boots. I don’t give money to panhandlers very often, but I had some cash on me and this time seemed different. Besides, it was January 29, and Social Security checks don’t hit until after the first of the month. I knew this lady had run out of money, and have you seen the price of dog food lately?
As I was leaving the store, I ran into her again, but this time she had two cartons of fried chicken from the deli. She’d made a table out of the top of a trash can and was devouring a chicken leg. Her dog was eating a wing. She thanked me and said, “I don’t get my SSI check until the third, and I didn’t know if I was going to get to eat tonight.”
From Garrison Keillor’s Autumn:
Above your head, the universe has hung its lights,
And I reach out my hand to touch your face.
I believe in impulse, in all that is green,
Believe in the foolish vision that comes true,
Believe that all that is essential is unseen,
And for this lifetime I believe in you.
As I climbed into my Jeep I told my daughter that we shouldn’t be fooled by our compassion or conned into believing we are good people for what we had just done. Ten dollars cannot redeem us. It will take much more than this. Besides, all we have ever given never really belonged to us anyway.
I received some sad news recently, and for the last couple of weeks I’ve had the same phrase going through my mind: Make friends with sorrow. Maybe this is what David Beckham was trying to do when he had Man of Sorrows by Matthew Brooks tattooed on his side. Maybe he was trying to understand grief. Or remember that he is not alone in his own.
Christ said, “Father, if thou art willing, let this cup pass from me.” But, it didn’t. Making friends with sorrow means drinking from the cup. It’s not poison and it won’t kill you. You just down the cup of hopes deferred and fears realized. I’m good at doing this. I have had a lot of practice.
The other day, Penelope Trunk, wrote a blog post, Thinking your problems are special ends up making you stuck. She wrote:
“But the truth is that I’m operating at about half my ability because I let myself be unproductive. I tell myself I’m special so I can stay up all night and then not function during the day. I tell myself I have that burn on my thigh. Or the scar on my eyebrow, or the nail in my heart. Whatever it is. That’s why I tell myself I don’t have to function like a normal person.”
After I read this, I remembered the nail I had in my heart. It’s gone now, but out of curiosity, I googled “how to drive a nail in.” The first page the query returned was an article about how to drive in a nail without splitting the wood. And, I’m going to say something I don’t think I’ve ever said before, and I’m very certain of this. Nothing will ever split me. But, the nail made all the difference.
When I was a little girl living in Los Angeles, my father took the family to Peniel Mission on Sunday nights. I remember the podium, dark wood and cross. My father would preach to the drunk and the homeless and afterwards we’d all go down to the basement for ice cream. One night, as my brother Billy tells me, a homeless man asked me if he could borrow my hairbrush, which I’d managed to cram into my tiny purse. The man was dirty and scary to me and I told him no. I was four, maybe five.
It would take many years and more than one nail to get me to a place where I could yes to people like that. So, I’m glad for the nail that lets me cup the cheek of a stranger whose hungry and 72 hours from payday. But, not so fast with the righteousness, right?
I was 12 when I learned Christ had hung naked on the cross. My father explained that artists used discretion when painting the Crucifixion. So, I’m wondering how is it we grow numb to the blood and the nails, but shield ourselves from the shame? Maybe I need to make friends with shame, not sorrow, which I can tell you is just about the last thing I want to do.
The following video is one of my favorite songs. It was sung by one of my favorite actresses, Samantha Mathis, in the movie Thing Called Love.