An effort (to return)

This evening the air is cool and the wind is blowing fiercely in quick bouts. The sun graciously offers her warmth from behind thick, brooding clouds, but she mostly fails. It’s mid October and the days are growing shorter by what feels like the minute, despite the fact that such things are not possible in the scale of time.

I’ve left the back door ajar, but I sit inside, looking out, a window of color framed by a dull grayness, the quickening absence of light.

This season change is changing me. It’s wearing me out on days that just months ago would have felt short, it’s putting me to bed prematurely, curling me up into covers under layers of clothing, reading and sleeping when I otherwise might be productive, might be social. I slept nearly ten hours last night. And I woke up wanting more, greedy sleeper that I am. I wanted selfishly to return to my dreamland, where I encountered friends, time warps, and families of bears. What’s the necessity in waking, exactly, with the exception of walking the dog?

Work is as challenging as ever, with my ever-growing caseload of homeless families. Still, it’s my job to serve them and often that means bearing witness to their trauma. I take work home with me when I shouldn’t. Not just objects that represent it, like my datebook and my cell phone, but pieces of their stories, images of their lives. I take their needs home with me and juggle them around in my brain at night when I can’t sleep.

Sometimes my poor wife has to hear about it. She had to hear about the guilt that I felt upon (re)discovering curtains in our thrift store giveaway bag; curtains that remained completely out of my short-term memory and awareness, yet sat 10 feet away in my car, as I met with a newly-housed family in dire need of everything one might want to make a small barren apartment into a home.

Luckily, she also gets to hear stories of success and, perhaps even more frequently, how inspired I am by the women I come in contact with every day. She gets to hear incredible tales about a family of 12 with little-to-no-income, and the most minute about of help on my part, managed to relocate to another part of the state and secure an affordable rental, all over a holiday weekend. There are happy endings to be sure, but they’re nothing like the kind at Friendly’s which you strain to lick out your sundae cup, they’re just the best case scenario with foreseeable struggles attached.

Still, I am drawn to this work even as I feel it overtake me at times. The stress stems from knowing how much there is to be done and realizing in the end, there is so little that I can do. As I sat in our agency’s monthly Anti-Racism Committee meeting this afternoon discussing the events in Ferguson and contemplating the ceaseless racism and violence that perpetuates our culture, I felt both heartache and helplessness pulse through my being. There is no easy answer for these kinds of institutionalized atrocities. And my state of near-tears silence for the duration of the meeting, I was surely of little assistance. But, I am watching and doing in every small way that I can each day. I am doing what is often hard work, having hard conversations, and still trying hard to find a lot of joy in life. If all that I manage to do tonight is bake a loaf of banana bread and share this seemingly haphazard stream of thoughts, then, well, maybe what I’ve done is good enough until tomorrow.