The Longest Day

Summer solstice is here. In pagan worship, this holiday is marked by not only by the abundance of nature, the bounty of the earth at its peak, but also in looking deeper into the human journey of the soul. There is a delicious and complex irony in celebrating the zenith of light as we also acknowledge the turn towards darkness – as from here, each day will get shorter in terms of daylight. And so, Litha is a celebration of the NOW, the transition, and the bliss of the pleasure of being alive.

I’ve spent the last several days looking inward. Solitude and reflection. A lot of running, which is in itself a solitary journey, a competition with the self; between the mind and the body. I’m trying to be open to messages the universe is giving me, and feel that’s working pretty well. It’s been a good break. I finished a novel, and now await it’s fate in the hands of a publisher.

Today, I celebrated my good fortune and the luck that I have that has brought me to the life I lead. This morning, I had leisurely coffee and did some reading. I met my mother for lunch, where we ate an abundance of food celebrating my Greek heritage – maybe too much – as we are lucky to be able to do on occasion. At lunch, she and I talked about my “one arm, two waters” point of view, and we agreed we have much to be thankful for. And then I had to take my leave, as I needed to head to the grocery. I’m almost completely out of food and need to get things for me and the boy to eat next week; things that are acceptable to pack in his camp lunches, and for our dinners.

I almost missed the young man at the light at the on ramp to I-71, in the blazing sunlight and 82-degree temperatures. “HUNGRY. NEED FOOD PLEASE.” It hit me like a punch in the stomach. I have seen people, here and there, of course. But am often unable to do anything to help. I carry little cash. I’m always on my way somewhere and have to be there in a hurry. I am on the go, go, go. All I could think was this was a human and he was hungry, and surely I could help him out. I drove the 15 minutes home and gathered up the leftover pop from my son’s birthday party a few weeks ago, and the toast-chee crackers he insisted I buy but now refuses to eat, and the packages of ranch veggie straws he also insisted I buy but refuses to eat, and a few other things that I don’t need, and neither does my son – that tin of blue cookies, the leftover sleeve of graham crackers. I took it all back to the guy. “It’s not much, but it’s what I have.” “God bless you,” he said, “I really appreciate it.” “Don’t give up,” I told him.

Then I went to the store and spent a lot of money on groceries. The suburbs are clean and nice and don’t have people begging on corners.

Except today.

As I left the store, there was an older man right by the Applebee’s with a big sign. “DIABETIC. HUNGRY. ANYTHING HELPS.” Fuck. I know I can’t help everyone. I have no intention of trying. But I was compelled to stop, seeing this message twice in one day. I pulled in to the Applebee’s parking lot, got out and called out to him, asking if I could buy him a meal at the restaurant. He limped walking over to me. He looked like an old hippie. He had kind eyes. “I think I’m ok for now,” he said, “I actually just had a meal there a bit ago, plus they gave me a little gift card so I could come back later for dinner. But thank you so, so much for stopping, that means a lot.”

Some people might claim these folks are scam artists. And maybe they are. Maybe that young man by the on ramp threw the food away I gave him as soon as I left. Maybe the old man was bullshitting and all they really want is cash. Well let me tell you. If your life has gotten to the point that the only way you have to make any money is standing around on a cement street corner with a fucking cardboard sign in the hopes of coming away after a few grueling hours in the sun with twenty or forty bucks, that’s an awfully difficult and humiliating way to make some money. There are a lot dirtier ways to make money that people in very expensive suits and $800 dollar shoes participate in every day, screwing people over en masse to the tunes of thousands of dollars a minute with a few clicks of a mouse or clacks on a keyboard.

I’m not explaining all this to brag in any way. I just want people to look around.

I won’t stop for everyone. I don’t have the means or the time and there are too many people that need help. But I really had to think, how can people walk right by fellow humans who are hungry, on their way to or from spending money, and not ever stop or find another way to lend a hand? Maybe they are secret patrons of a soup kitchen. Maybe they check a box and have a few bucks from their paycheck diverted to United Way each year, I don’t know. But I needed that human connection today to the real human condition. This was my solstice lesson, and it made me cry.

It’s a very long day to stand outside.

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