Diamond-Cut Life

How To Be Rich In What Matters

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Pushing Back Against The Darkness

December 8th, 2013 by Alison · 6 Comments · diamond-cut life

It’s 16 degrees here in Portland, Oregon. I got so chilled yesterday walking just half a mile that I felt sick — and that was even wearing a good parka and gloves so thick I looked like an astronaut.

  1. For every 1,000 people in the U.S., two are homeless.

part of me goes crazy with anger when it’s this flipping cold and people are living outdoors, homeless. Roughly 2,000 men, women and children are homeless at any given time here in Portland, Oregon. They sleep in doorways, under bridges, and in their cars. I buy copies of Street Roots from some of them in front of Powells Books. The shelters can’t begin to hold all of the homeless on sub-freezing nights. 

For every 1,000 people in the U.S., two are homeless. This is a form of darkness in our culture.

I’m outraged at this darkness, this homelessness, when our society is overflowing with abundance. And underneath my anger I feel wrenching grief. The suffering of homelessness is not inevitable.

In the 1970′s there were very few homeless people. Historically, people with little money simply lived in places that didn’t cost a lot, i.e., low-income housing.

But with every decade since the 70′s, more low-income housing units have disappeared. Low-income housing is not profitable, in a culture that’s obsessed with profit. Our culture is currently defining riches only by dollars, and not by other things that matter, like everyone having a place to live.

Obsession with profit is a form of darkness. It’s a corporate closing of our hearts. It leaves people out in the freezing cold.

I was dollar-poor for much of my life, though never homeless, nor close to it. Today, I’m not dollar-poor at all. But at all different income levels, I’ve generally been rich in what matters — loving relationships, work I like and believe in, connection to God and nature. We’re the same people, whatever our income level. And I’m grateful that I’m rich in what matters.

But when other people are homeless in sub-freezing cold,  my being rich in what matters is hollow. It’s not complete at all.

On a deep level, when other people are freezing, I am also freezing.

And yet, it’s also easy for me to close my heart, and turn away from suffering. It’s easy to be really busy. and not live from that deep part of myself.

But I want to live from that deep part of myself. I’m convinced that’s the path to being the richest in what matters.

So. My minister Tim and I have started a small spiritual-growth group called BELLS. Each letter in BELLS stands for a habit we want to develop. The second L is for learning, as in reading things that lift us up or improve us. Linda B. just gave me a book to read for BELLS called “Radical Hospitality” :

“Little acts push at the great big darkness, the darkness that is so huge we feel helpless and so we do nothing and try to make ourselves feel good about it. This is a heart problem … You can’t fix the problem of world hunger. Well no, of course you can’t. Where did you ever get the idea you were supposed to? But you can help the single mother feed her kids,and you canhelp the old guy whose Social Security check won’t come for another week.

You and I, we can help the one in our path. That is enough. Try to get this straight, that really is enough.”

by: Jim Clark Caitlin Morrison loads up a bag of food that will go to a child at Oliver Elementary School.

Caitlin Morrison, the creator of the Backpack Project that feeds hungry kids here in Portland, Oregon.

Later today Thor and I are throwing our 10th annual Christmas open house. This time, we’re asking everyone to bring two cans of protein, for the Backpack Project at Rosewood, a local community center. A 15 year old named Caitlin Morrison started the Backpack Project, to feed kids who don’t have enough food on weekends.

Caitlin is helping the ones in her path. She is keeping her heart open, and pushing back against the darkness.

And this Friday Thor and I will again be helping to serve a community dinner for low-income folks. (I don’t like to use the word poor, because anyone can be rich in what matters.)  These dinners are cheerful affair, and sometimes the best part of my week. I’m realizing that my love of meeting people, bantering and socializing  is the value-add I’m bringing to this gig, not my labor, per se. People need to be seen and heard. They need my heart.

I’m working to keep my heart open. Working to push back against the darkness.

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6 Comments so far ↓

  • Alison

    Postscript: My friends Barbara Kutasz and Colleen Kaleda (among many others) are also pushing back against the darkness. Barbara volunteers steadily at the Common Cup shelter, for folks without homes. And Colleen is the volunteer director of Community Project Ethiopia, building a school in an Ethiopian village that badly needs one. I love having friends that inspire me. Barbara is in the BELLS group with me.

  • Mike

    I, like so others, start to get a little tisky and irritable when the temperatures drop far before normal as they have this week. Sometimes it seems almost impossible to get warmed up no matter what you do. And despite being outdoors off/on with Phoenix I still have a warm vehicle and warm house to retreat to. The homeless do not and it’s an absolutely frightening time if they can not find warm shelter. This is a fantastic post and what an amazing 15 year old young lady Caitlin Morrison is, Alison! Huge smiles and applause to her and thank you for this post to bring the constant reminder to the rest of us that are fortunate vs those who are not.

    • Alison

      Mike, thanks for your warm, open heart — probably the biggest heart I’ve ever encountered online, along with our mutual pal Kim.

      I’m aware that in general, most readers prefer posts that give them practical advice, i.e., tips that can make their lives easier or more fun, or that help them solve a problem, right now. And while I sometimes do posts like that (Hand out quarters at Halloween instead of candy! Simplify your holidays with these tips! Top Ten Ways To Combat Sitting Disease!) I generally feel called to go deeper, and dig around at the roots of things. And I love that you’re able to go there with me.

      Big hug, Mike. I’m going over to Past My Curfew now, to visit you and see what you and Phoenix have been up to.

  • grnpwrguy

    Our friends truly have big hearts based om all the great canned food we collected at our holiday open house. They’re the best!

  • Kathy

    Alison, re your comment about readers wanting practical tips or immediate solutions to current problems… Let us not forget that we each possess this amazing organ called a brain. After reading a post that digs down to the center of things, I can take 5 minutes to make my own list of 3 to 5 things that I can do this very week about whatever the issue you raise in your post. Example: I can give my lunch to the next hungry street person I see. Or if that’s not practical, I can make a food donation to a food bank every week in support of all the hungry people I see in a given week. I see how you like to engage readers by asking for their experience or ideas at the end of a post. Perhaps you can ask us readers to respond w/ our own practical tips regarding the larger issue you’ve raised in your deeper but less practical advice giving posts. How fun would that be?

    • Alison

      Kathy, thanks for encouraging me in my habit of digging down. So true that each of us has this amazing thing called a brain. Yours has always struck me as more amazing than most.

      Looking forward to seeing you via Skype this Sunday at 8 a.m., Portland time.

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