Friday, February 26, 2010

Ugly All Around Makes Beauty Glow

Was it just that it's Friday, the last day of the shortest month, and the news media are winding down, or is today just a sewer-story day?

It started with me getting my shorts in a knot reading a story about Angel Food Ministries, an Atlanta area (supposed) nonprofit where the CEO is getting something in the neighborhood of $1MLN for a salary, plus perks including a corporate jet. Others are apparently upset, so I'll let this be someone else's problem.... but I can assure you my salary/perks for HEAR US don't quite hit this benchmark.

Then the shit-splattering story of NY gov David Paterson's demise. His wanton disregard of any good sense, much less legal behavior, re: his aide's alleged domestic violence incidents make me, a non-New Yorker, want to scream for his head on a platter. The competition between NY and IL on bad governors has heated up considerably.

Perhaps I'm suffering from a serious Health Care Summit hangover. I sort of watched yesterday as I slogged through other tasks. Considering this was a last-ditch opportunity to cement some decent deal for the American people, I'd say it was a little too polite and a little light on impassioned focus. Imagine standing on the shore, watching a bunch of people drowning, with a lifeboat nearby, and pointing to the poor suckers going down for the last time, "gee, looks like they might be having hard times..."

All that ugly makes Beauty glow. Last Friday morning I met with Starkville, MS Mayor Parker Wiseman, a new, young mayor in one of the poorest areas in Mississippi. He and Alderwoman Sandra Sistrunk sat and had a sincerely compassionate discussion with me about how the tragic fire that killed 3 women and 6 little children at the end of December has spurred their concern that others might, without intervention, suffer the same fate. They promised to convene local agencies and leaders to examine the current safety net and repair if necessary. Here's a quick little petition to thank them for caring. 

And, I took the above photo while in Las Cruces, NM last month. I had met with the mayor there, screened our new documentary, now called "On the Edge" (working title), and connected with some like-minded people there. Mayor Ken has called to let me know he's still working on some short and long-term solutions.

Much to my delight, I learned about another woman traveling the country to raise awareness of homeless children. Agnes Stevens, 75, who started and ran the nonprofit "School on Wheels"  that tutors and provides school supplies for homeless kids, is now traveling the country exploring and encouraging efforts to help this mostly invisible population. Check her blog for a delightful change from all the ugliness.

Seems to me it's getting way too easy to get caught in the mud-slinging, greedy grabbing, business as way-too-usual of power-mongers. That's why the people I meet along the road, and new-roadies like Agnes brighten my day. They're real, they're trying to do good despite the sewer-swirl around them, and they remind me that, as a button from folk singer Anne Feeney reminds me every day, "There's a whole lot more of us then there are of you!"   

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sorting Wants and Needs

I can still recall the Friday I picked up Tillie, my RV, and maneuvered it back from Bartlett to Naperville. Aside from being freaked out by my 20-year mortgage commitment and the 27' body extended behind my driver's seat, I had to figure out what I needed to take with me, where to put what I thought I needed, and I needed to do it fast because I was scheduled to shove off the following Monday.

The picture of me with bins and boxes stacked in this cramped space was plain ugly. I'm setting out on a journey to who-knows-where to do who-knows-what and I'm sitting in a friend's apartment complex parking lot sorting and storing shit. I had no clue what I needed. 

Fast forward, 87,000 miles and 4 years and 4 months later. I'm parked for the night in a southern Louisiana WalMart parking lot, knowing storms are destined to dump rain soon. I look around at the inside of Tillie and I smile. Most of what I thought I needed--bins, file folders, office supplies, etc.--I didn't need. I still could pare back considerably, but the folks here at WM wouldn't appreciate me having a yard sale.

One of the most surprising lessons I've learned (and I'm still in kindergarten) is how little I really need. I'm not austere--at least not by my thinking. I eat well, albeit a limited (by choice and practicalities) menu. I am comfortable, though I've become a cold weather wimp. And I work hard, though I've learned to set limits, like no computer in bed. 

What I've become aware of is the difference between need and want. And I question my want category much more vigorously. I'm not the one stimulating the economy by amassing goods. 

But I have what I need. And I'm painfully aware that many people don't begin to have what they need. And I need to check myself when getting angry about all those who have way more than I think they could need. 

I'm grateful for incredible support that empowered me to pull out of the parking lot and point Tillie's nose out of Illinois. I've met some amazing people--homeless families, people who work with homeless children and youth, and those who truly care about what happens to people in poverty. I've seen some amazing sights, backroad fan that I am. And the dream of creating a documentary to give homeless kids voice and visibility has been realized, and then some! If you haven't seen the HEAR US website, I invite you to do so. 

Seems to me that the leap of faith back in '05 was a good one for me.  And I believe that our nation is at that "leap of faith" point now, staring at the biggest challenge our country has ever faced--how to overcome hatred that spews from every possible source, further impairing our democracy that was far down the road to dysfunction. My fantasy--to have a committee to sort national needs and wants. It'll be an ugly process, but now's the time.