Evolution, Part 5: Wind + Down

I wouldn’t say I was feeling down. I couldn’t call it disappointment, either.

It was a very good day. It just wasn’t the day I had imagined.

I was pleased to have kept my commitment; pleased to have made a small difference.

The spiritual service moved me to tears. I managed to hold back most of the lonely decompression that follows the end of a mission.

Community disengagement is a let-down; leaving, returning to steady, known apathy.

The short-set mingling morphed into tired walking; across the street to cars, and rest rooms and t-shirt purchases.

 

I cannot tell you it was a well-thought out thought; it wasn’t.

I cannot tell you why I said what I said, feeling the way I did.

I cannot tell you I knew the person just a step behind me.

I cannot tell you I recognized them; not from work, not from lunch, not from praise.

I just skipped a step, falling back a foot, turned and said, “This may have been one of my best birthdays, ever.”

I didn’t realize we’d stopped walking; we were talking.

Quickly: about birthdays and kites, tulips and art, a fight two sisters had in their mother’s hospital room.

The leaving chill evaporated; son-powered enthusiasm soaked in.

Suddenly we were last in line, thanking GOD and Jesus for a beautiful day.

Followed by a question with the only possible answer: Yes.

 

We sat down there, in a day-safe neighborhood, in the dwindling late afternoon, deep in portfolio.

A simple medium; graphite and recycled paper = pencils and abandoned pages.

I’ve never mastered the achievement of negative space in any medium.

Pencil, pen, crayon, watercolor – all take foresight. A clear tear is not easily added to a pencil portrait.

Devils that didn’t look like devils, doorways to the wrong place, wallpaper with eyes, a gang logo, a sister, a mourner, a life; questionable looks from passersby.

 

I stopped when I saw her, speaking to me of loss and prayer and grief and release; echoing loneliness caught by loneliness.

I didn’t ask who she was; simply served a compliment.

A few pages later, the counterbalance caught me. Separated, two portraits sharing one instance, one hand on each shoulder.

I knew they belonged together. When offered, I cried.

I knew they belonged together. Speechless to the insistence, I cried a little harder.

 

“If it’s going to make you sad, make you cry, I won’t ask you to take it. If it will bring you joy, please…”

 

I looked up from the shadows, buildings by setting sun; patience was waiting, not signaling time to go.

But we knew it was, so carefully, the gift was rolled; secured, presented.

We hugged and hugged again, and when my breath came, I grasped for more –

With nothing to offer, except for this; “I hope to see you again, someday.”

To which was replied; “It’s all up to Him. GOD’s will be done.”

 

So, I fought the breeze, and crossed the street, and wiped the wind tears away;

I could not, then, and still cannot answer; “Whom was ministering to whom?”

 

Quote for the week:

Sometimes we must plan in advance barry curry art oct 1 2014

Enjoy This Week’s Discovery Links:

Beginning Charcoal:  http://www.artinstructionblog.com/charcoal-drawing-basics-techniques-for-beginners

Detailed: Interpretation of Art; http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/36433/art-philosophy-of/36256/The-interpretation-of-art

Art as Therapy: http://medicalarttherapy.com/using-art-as-an-outlet/

Evolution, Part 4: Horchata + Quakers

Dinner was another adventure. Taqueria Mi Pueblo on Dix greeted us with a huge cement chicken (rooster, whatever) silhouetted against a summer blue sky. We had an adventurous group at our end of the long table. Gorditas, Tostadas, Gringas, Rellenos were all ordered with enthusiasm. I don’t think anyone ordered the same meal. I also discovered a new treat. Actually, I overheard it requested by a young lady as her beverage, so I asked about it. The best way I can describe the taste would be liquefied, drinkable rice pudding. Perfectly spiced, watery, yet creamy, Horchata is rice milk made by steeping white rice for 24 hours, adding vanilla, nutmeg and lime, among other variations. I checked the recipe. It’s labor intensive due to straining, but still easy enough to conquer on a snow bound winter day. In Michigan, we save stuff like this anticipating days when we’ll need something to prevent all the cold whiteness from freezing our brains.

Three more surprises came along. First, our meal was paid for by our youth group hosts and hostesses. Next a sweet surprise (and yummy) piece of Tres Leches arrived with fanfare, requested by my sweet friend. The third surprise was the hat. Actually, it was a sombrero: a big, heavy, red velvet, silver embellished festivity designed for someone with a much bigger head than mine. Truth is almost everyone’s head is bigger than mine, except for most children. Truth. Most of my hat buying most occurs in their kiddie section of department stores. In any case, the singing waitresses and the cake triggered additional surprise among my day-long companions. “How did we not know it was your birthday?” one asked. The fault there was mine. I did not advertise my predicament. Ok, predicament may not be the correct term to use for the routine occurrence of growing older. It was a mindful choice for me to be there on that particular day. It’s how I chose to spend it; doing something that I love – volunteering.

Post dinner, back at Cass, we headed back into the warehouse for Wednesday Praise. We weren’t the first to arrive and we weren’t the last, either. But, we were required to split up, taking seats wherever we found one. I found one at the end of a row or two of boisterously happy strangers. Their joking and laughter was contagious, even throughout the message. The Ambassadors entertained in a way that defies entertainment. Their inspiration was contagious; their song choices uplifting and inspirational. A few 1960’s songs even took on a different meaning for me that afternoon. Something amazing happens when mainstream is turned into praise. “You’ve Got a Friend” was one in particular. There was a brief introduction of the many groups that had volunteered that day. Again, I was surprised, but this time it was to learn that I was sitting with visiting, volunteering Quakers. Proving, once again, stereotypes are rarely ever accurate.

The end of praise left me teary. Not surprising really.

Regular days are exercises in emotional containment.

Special days stretch the limits.

That’s when everything changed….

 

Quote of the Week:

 stereotypes all roosters crow at daybreak taqueria rooster july 23 2014

Enjoy This Week’s Discovery Links:

Mexican Cuisine: http://mexicanfood.about.com/od/mexicanfoodglossary/

Defining Praise: http://www.wadetaylor.org/William/2014/2PraiseinEverydayLifebyWilliamTaylor.pdf

Quakers – introduced with a bit of Humor: http://quakerinfo.org/index

 

 

Evolution, Part 3: Cut + Weave

There are many shades of innovation. Some are brighter than others.

There are two engaging and admirable industries within Cass Social Services. Both use recycled/reclaimed materials. Sheet glass becomes handmade coasters packaged in boxes hewn from reclaimed wood. Trashed tires become mud mats, and flip-flops.

Riding around Detroit picking up discarded tires for reuse brings tire recycling to a higher level. Repurposing illegally released rubber into colorful mud mats and trendy flip-flops is out-of-the-box inspiring; a home run from Detroit for Detroit. Even the big “D” logo shows up and adds pride to the sandals. How cool is it to tread on treads? Very. Freaking. Cool.

Rotating through various work stations in smaller groups was also engaging. At each interactive stop, we met mentors, ranging from self-conscious to confident, reserved to animated, a bit distrusting to upright happy. All had story to tell: who they were, who they are, who they are trying to be, a timeline of weary challenges and personal successes.

I tried my hand at glass cutting, after almost everyone else had. The basics: run the blade along the ruler at a 45° angle using firm, even pressure. Since all the kids were doing it, I denied my initial reluctance, carefully applying caution and draw. My instinctive “pass” was reinforced when my efforts failed to split evenly. A portion of the jagged piece I created would be salvageable, just not by me.

Our final afternoon assignment wasn’t about footwear, but an underfoot of another kind: mud mats.

Our two-person team’s teacher was reluctant. His nervousness was recognizable; his mannerisms familiar. You know the feeling you get when the last twist of the Rubik Cube nets the results you’ve been struggling with? You know the contented click of slipping in the last puzzle piece? You know the charge you get when you know you can succeed? With 30+ years of personality variation patience building behind me, I knew what to do. This was my right-place useful moment, although, that might not have been his initial impression

I know we were frustrating. Switching back and forth between thick and thin strips of sliced tire creating an unclear pattern while keeping track of non-repetitive rainbow colors was a bit like Suduko, which has never been a strong point of mine. Rework would be required a number of times.

I understand there is a color version of the game. That may indeed be manageable for me. Shapes might work, too. I’ve never viewed the solution as the need to create a single sum on each line. Too busy trying to figure out what doesn’t go to seemingly no purpose. But a puzzle is just that – an exercise in solving a problem. We all solve problems on a daily basis. Some of them are monumental and some of them are minute. All can be resolved; review, reanalyze, rework.

I know we eventually made him a little more comfortable. I know we made him shake his head in bemusement, and later amusement. I know he didn’t understand how we could not understand. Perhaps too bold, I want to believe our failure, could have proved positive self-worth. He was the teacher, doing something we could not. We left him with a smile, and to my great happiness, he smiled back.

Quote for the Week:

ALL can be resolved Sep 16 2014

Enjoy this Week’s Discovery Links:

Flip-Flops: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flip-flops

Flip-Flops, Mud Mats, Coasters: http://cass-community-store.myshopify.com/

Flip-Flop: sound, reversal, circuit, sandal: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/flip-flop

 

 

Evolution, Part 2: Work + Welcome

Maybe angry isn’t exact; anger is a flash. This was more of a deep resentful annoyance over unaccountability and team members who chose not to participate. Had I been in charge, I would have required everyone contribute to the outcome. Admittedly, this stands as solid evidence as to why I shouldn’t ever be in charge.

There was work to be done. Retrospectively, I can attribute unintentional engagement; works in progress. Still, the split bothered me.  Eventually, even the committed became distracted by their uncommitted peers, gathering in small groups around a pool table, a punching bag, and a ping-pong table. The pool players played with others outside our group. There was a proper punching bag technique demonstration by two also outside our group. As for the teens playing ping-pong without paddles, tosses became wilder, volleys less controlled, and soon the game bore no resemblance to a game, at all.  This make-it-up-as-you-go-along ball flinging frenzy didn’t sit well with me. Despite the interpretation, this wasn’t intentional downtime.

At least not being in charge leant me some perspective. If someone lacks a volunteer heart, no amount of pushing will mold it into one. I was honestly just let down; bummed. Unfortunately that disappointment turned into high-energy annoyance when one of the players laughed loudly and shouted, “Is this what being homeless is like?”

I understand youth are youth. I also understand the weak correlation. No paddles, doing without, making the best of things, finding another way to play. I don’t understand how those words left anyone’s mouth while in the presence of more than one homeless unfortunate. I don’t understand the lack of impress; how do you not know where you are and why you are there? No one else seemed to notice or react. Without discussion or direction it is probable that ignorance and impropriety would remain ignorance and impropriety.

Loosely congealed, we wandered into the lunch line. I didn’t completely understand. Due to short shifts, I had never been fed as a Cass volunteer. I had never stood on a lunch line. I conjured up the expectation of cold sandwiches and chips. I imagined meeting and eating with other volunteers. What I imagined was segregation. I never even considered sharing the same meal in the same space with the women and children and men standing patiently between gaps in volunteers, waiting for the gift of a good, solid meal for themselves or their children. I never expected to feel as if I were unworthy of receiving. I knew I was as welcome as anyone. I also knew I had a granola bar in my pocket that would hold me.

I thought of stepping out; stepping away with a lavatory excuse. I labored with this until it was my turn to follow through. At that point, there was no way to bow-out without having to explain. Instead of creating a fuss, I accepted a plate, requesting smaller portions than were offered to those before me, skipping items. The only beverage offered was fruit punch. Allergy wise, my history with fruit punch isn’t positive, so I made do with chewing ice, and eating slowly to match the cadence of my table mates. I still didn’t eat slowly enough to avoid sitting with an empty plate, hands folded. I occasionally made what I thought might be a friendly or cute comment with not much response. Mostly, I was just awkward, caught between age groups, layers of unexpected feelings and thirst.

Really, I just wanted to work.

Quote for the Week:

Expecting to be treated differently than others better than or worse than

Enjoy this Week’s Discovery Links:

Conquer Frustration: http://www.simpletoremember.com/articles/a/conquer-frustration/

Not Everybody Should Lead: http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikemyatt/2013/01/23/why-youre-not-a-leader/

Statistics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homelessness_in_the_United_States

 

 

Evolution, Part 1: Energy + Shred

A Wednesday in July, found me once again at Cass Social Services, Detroit.  I had already decided to say “yes” to any opportunity offered.  As usual, assignments are always vague. Recyclable paper sorting sounded simple enough. Separate white from color, remove staples, clips, rubber bands, metal; cardboard and note pads had their own place, away from the action. Go.

At first, frantic sorting at the front end resulted in nothing to do down the way. As the loads came faster, the questions rolled.White on one side, printed on the other, which bin? Manila folders – color or cardboard? We’re all uncertain. Nobody wants to make judgment calls. Stop.

Readjustments are necessary, as is accepting redirection from seasoned volunteers. Don’t run the conveyor belt, our advisor advises. Place your bins on the belt, not under the table. Depends on how much ink covers the surface. Logo printed letterhead – white. Full-color picture checks – color. Use the ledges to gather clips and bands. Go.

Out of necessity, voluntary role fulfillment begins. The step-ups absorb additional duties, identifying gaps. One paid particular attention to empty space on the conveyor belt, reacting by a step-away and back with another full box, and another. Our little piles of clips and bands began to overflow the little ledges we set them on. Soon, another volunteer appears collecting our collections and carrying them away. I love the evolution of teams.

Of course, there is confidentiality involved. I doubt there would be any documents to shred if there wasn’t. The pace is steady. Occasionally comments float by. “Handwritten formal correspondence!” “Typewriter carbon-paper copies!” “Pre-rolodex index cards!” “Gregg shorthand!” Oddities and treasures some of us remember; others need further explanation.

“I can’t shred this,” someone says, displaying an ornamental parchment. It is a beautiful baptism certificate. She frets over its importance and sets it aside, before drawing more items from the same folder. “Birth certificates, marriage license, divorce papers, will, death certificate,” she ticks, and we pause.  This is someone’s entire legal life. It doesn’t seem right, destroying a paper life, but the all-inclusiveness suggests that none of these documents are needed anymore. They are sorted into the appropriate bins, headed to the shredder.

In less than an hour, we have conquered the separation. The shredder is still shredding, operated by other volunteers from our group, and we are recruited to a new task. Moving cardboard from the almost-up-to-the-warehouse-ceiling tall pile of broken down boxes closer to the strapper which will compress them into bulk bundles. A line forms at the pile, and for a few minutes, we pardon-me and excuse-me past each other carrying as many as possible.

Someone suggests we split up into pilers and movers. The pilers will position small loads on the outstretched arms of movers, who will move them to their destination. There are still jam-ups, but the mountain is moving faster. A few minutes more, and another solution arrives via a team youth.  With an observant tilted head, she theorizes we could still do better by employing the Fireman’s bucket brigade. She is correct and within another few minutes, another task was complete.

Together, the shredders, strappers, pilers and movers move along to the Green Room. The Green Room may have been the hardest task. At least, it seemed that way to me. We’d already been standing and moving and bending and reaching for two hours. Still, we collectively strapped our tired feet to elliptical machines and stationary bikes, and pedaled. The point of the Green Room is twofold. A way to provide exercise equipment to shelter seekers and temporary residents, each piece is also attached to a power generator. Credits are issued for energy generated here, helping defray operation costs. Following a few rounds of “I’m not generating, anything! Are you generating anything?”

A quartet of young men joined the effort on the other wall, pedaling wildly, competitively announcing wattage as it rose. We balked because our machines still showed no observable results. Slowly, not collectively but individually, not all at once but eventually, each slid from our seats to allow others the opportunity to add to gains that would presumably be more significant than ours.

The Green Room was also where my ideals evoked my internal green Hulk anger.

(* We were actually generating a legitimate watt or two as a group, just not significantly: individually or quartet comparatively.)

Quote for the Week:

There is always room for an improvement 09 02 2014

 

Enjoy this Week’s Discovery Links:

Power Biking: http://www.doityourself.com/stry/how-to-use-a-bicycle-to-make-renewable-energy#.VAZTicJ0yM8

Shred Stats: http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/paper/faqs.htm

Bucketing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bucket_brigade