catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 7 :: 2007.04.06 — 2007.04.20


Surrounded on all sides

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

-from “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

I look around my living room: while pleasing to my eye, it is also a home for the elderly, marginalized, tired and rejected.  Its theme reads a little like the promise engraved on the Statue of Liberty: a greenish yellow throne of a chair found outside a dumpster after it had been claimed by a bourgeois cat; a futon that suffocated in the torturous windowless break room of a moving company; bookshelves of bricks salvaged from the rubble of a decimated piece of Michigan history that lost in the war between tradition and progress; a fragile, elaborate handmade quilt that almost ended up in a landfill when a grandmother moved to a nursing home.

For some, a calling to care for the least of these manifests itself in a special love for the elderly or the disabled.  Some have hearts tuned in to the needs of animals and fill their time and homes with one-eyed cats, diabetic dogs, three-legged guinea pigs.  While my own calling finds its human-centered home in a passion for economic justice, it also emerges in a care for things.  I intentionally fill my home with objects that have personal and environmental value, shunning the Ikeas and Ethan Allens of the world in favor of roadsides, thrift shops and family history.

That said, it’s tempting to become self-righteous about this space and how well it reflects my values: a comfortable, eclectic scrapbook of chance encounters and careful selection.  But doesn’t this space also reflect a well-disguised snobbery?  How often have I turned down a family heirloom or passed by an easy chair on the curb because they didn’t fit my mutable criteria of worthiness?

A couple of weeks ago, on the way to pick up a friend from the airport, I saw an older man sitting against a building at an intersection.  As the bus pulled up to the stop, he tried and failed several times to stand up.  My desire to help him dissolved however when I saw him slip a bottle of liquor into the inside pocket of his coat.  “Anyway, what would I do?  Call the police?  Then he’d get arrested.  If the weather was bad, I’d make an effort, but it’s a nice day so he can sit there until he sobers up.  Besides, Julie’s flight will be in soon and we don’t want to be late for lunch.”  I had drawn my line.

Later that afternoon, I felt a sense of pride as I looked around the store my husband and I helped found and saw people gathered there for a variety of purposes, of a variety of generations, faiths, places, ethnicities and abilities.  But how quickly do I wish that the two bored teen-aged girls would stop coming in to play games after a volunteer tells me that the coffee donations disappeared?

Even while I pat myself on the back for those for whom I have been an agent of salvation, there are millions more for whom I am powerless or, worse, willfully ignorant.  And so I suppose, home should be a place where I am both encouraged and humbled, where I am confronted with both who I am and who I truly desire to become, where I am inspired with endless possibilities and regretful for my limitations.  The things with which I surround myself reflect and reinforce my deepest values, but they also convict me of my weaknesses.  And that, I think, is a good thing.

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