Happy New Year Friends!

In honor of welcoming 2012, impending apocalypse notwithstanding, I wanted to share something that happened a bit ago now, on a run, though I apologize in advance that it doesn’t exactly portray a happy message about the opening of this infant year.

I recently moved, and one ritual I maintain is the inaugural run from the place I’ll start to call home from now on.  It’s usually a pretty useful way to acquaint myself with the neighborhood, get my bearings, and start to feel comfortable in a new place.

I set off from my new abode, excited, I can’t help a grin.  It’s a place, all my own, only the second time in my life I’ve enjoyed this luxury.  I think on all the possibilities, the potential in this place, the good things sure to happen under this roof.  It’s a good day, a great run, I think.  Off to the trail I go, and the run is pretty otherwise uneventful but for the scene I happen on towards the end.

I’m about a mile from home, zoning out to WILCO, when I wind across the foot bridge through the wetlands.  Under a fir almost hidden from the path is a protective over hang, a modest shelter where someone is taking refuge.  I spot the resident, sitting quietly, smoking, under the boughs of the tree.  He’s no more than 14, probably younger.  Even having experienced the profound punctuations of pre-teenness, even having taught students this age, I remain a miserable judge of age. I know enough to know he can’t have legally procured the cigarette he’s smoking.

I keep running.  My heart breaks.  I keep running.  What kind of Christmas has this kid had? It’s a thought I try not to dwell on. I can’t help it.  I start thanking people in my head, counting every single one of my damn lucky stars. I start to feel pretty fatalistic, about this place we loiter around in, the planet, and what this kid, alone, under the tree with his tarp and his cigarette in the rain says about us, and more specifically, me, as a denizen of this place.  The reflection this scene paints of us is a pretty unforgiving one, I realize.  I’m sure there are extenuating circumstances, I hope he has somewhere to go, I hope I’m not his last hope.  If I am, I’ve left him in the cold.  My heart keeps breaking, and I keep running.  Can I help him?  I don’t even know where to start.

Where do any of us start? With problems so big, and systems so convoluted, how can any single one of us help in a meaningful way?  How can we have made it so hard to reach out and help in our communities? I’m swarmed with deep-seated frustration, I want to help, and yet, here I am running.  Running away.  Distance. Put the distance between me and him. The ugliness of this picture that I am featured in is unbearable.  I push my feet faster and faster, straight up the steep trail back toward the neighborhood, my poor legs paying the price for my shortcomings as a citizen, as a human.

This year I want to resolve to accept more accountability graciously and bravely.  I want to resolve to do more to craft a world I’d want to live in, and especially, be legitimately proud instead of ashamed of.  I’ve had every opportunity I could ever ask for in life, and yet I still can’t work out how best to help this kid.  Should I get a job teaching kids? Should I donate to the shelters? Volunteer at a half-way house? I hope I run across him again, literally.  He’ll come home with me, and we’ll eat stew.


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