“Did someone forget their apple?” Faith asked, emerging from the bathroom, holding a half-eaten, half-rotted apple by the stem she’d discovered on the tiled floor next to the toilet.
The house is three stories; tight staircases and half-a-dozen rooms on every level, and I’m sitting on rug in the second floor den playing cards–feeling tired and longing for home. Wherever that is.
Nothing like leaving a rotting apple on the bathroom floor of the complete stranger’s home that’s provided a roof over your head to say, “thanks for the hospitality.”
The rain is coming down hard today, and it’s colder than it ought to be in April. There’s a dead wolf on the first floor, alert and at full attention. I kept waking up last night thinking somehow it would make it’s way up the stairs to say hello, it’s big teeth all the better to eat me with.
“We’re praying in the morning,” Faith said, poking her head in on our card game, rotten apple in hand. How it ended up on the floor next to the toilet is still a mystery to me since I wasn’t even using the bathroom when I was eating the thing. “8 a.m. Some people from the neighborhood stop by every Tuesday. We have coffee. We’ll see who shows up. You’re welcome to join.”
They’d be in the room with the wolf.
The walls of this house are ancient history, swelling and shifting in the rain; the hum of bodies and sweat and laughter coming and going all day. It’s a family of artists here, and an open door to community. People always coming and going. Cabinets full of Star Wars action figures from the 70′s, and the artwork of their children as decor. There’s a taxidermy operation running out of the basement, and that explains the piranha on the shelf and the cold cat on the bookcase I’d been petting and concerned about.
I was in need of prayer. I’d just sat for five hours in a coffee shop, distracted by Facebook and Twitter, not writing a thing, and not knowing where I was going next.
I’d just come from folding discarded and dirty children’s clothes (because dirty and used is better than no clothes at all) on the floor of the Philadelphia Access Center, wrecked with the fact that I’ve got an extra coat in my trunk for when it’s cold, blankets in case I have no place to sleep at night, and a laundry basket with clothes I couldn’t quite part with when I left LA.
I told myself I needed them.
I needed them just in case.
In case of what?
I’d arrived at the Access Center with a group of young people, all with their own problems and struggles, who wake up each morning and tend to the victims of crime and selfishness, the poor, the down-and-out, and the defeated just looking for the strength to throw one more punch.
Mothers struggling to stay in the country with their kids.
Children with holes in their clothes.
Men without jobs.
How is my simple act of folding and organizing donated baby clothes on the floor of a near-empty room going to change a thing that’s going on out there?
But that change,
it has to start somewhere.
And when I woke up Tuesday morning, I joined 5 strangers and a stuffed wolf in prayer for the South Philly neighborhood we were in. To clean it up. To fix the streets and the gutters and the back alleys infested with garbage and bored high school hooligans.
They are leading a charge to create a community.
Telling neighbors to grab a shovel and dig through the rubble of the abandoned lot next door.
It must start in the cities before it can reach the nation.
If we go for the nation first, we’ve missed the point entirely.
It’s not about reaching as many people as possible at the same time. It’s about reaching them one at a time.
Tending to the one humble enough to walk through the doors of the Access Center with her five-year-old and say, “I need help.”
To stop and say hello to the man you see every day on the street, but you don’t know his name.
Change begins with hello.
Change begins with a handshake.
Change begins with folding discarded baby clothes on the floor of a near-empty room so the mothers have an easier time finding their child’s size. One less stress, one less hassle to deal with.
We must reach the cities before we can reach the nation. We must reach the individual before we can reach the family. We must reach the family before we can affect the neighborhood. And we must reach the neighborhood before we can get to the city.
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