I knew in that very moment, sadness had a sound…
A thick layer of frost covered the places where our ignorance had once been. So thick that we heard the sound from beneath our sleeping bags and extra layers. We knew our cardboard roof had fallen in.
We had constructed our home for the night as if it were a Lincoln Log cabin. Examining and planning our shelter meticulously. We were college students attempting to master the skill of cardboard shack building. But no amount of cardboard & diligence, strategy & optimism, would guard our roof from the night’s chill and the frost she carried.
We cuddled closer to one another. She to I and I to She. We could barely muster an ounce of body heat but our whispered words and our visible breathing sustained us. She was cold. I was cold. Together we were freezing, Together Nonetheless.
Last November I slept out in the cold for a night with my college peers to attempt to put a face on poverty. It is one thing to talk about soup kitchens and cardboard beds. It is another thing entirely to hear the roar in your stomach when one serving of soup and two bread sticks just is not enough. Another thing entirely to feel your hands go numb. Another thing entirely to scrounge like a beggar, attempting to convert any shred of light in your soul into warmth for your body. It hits 2a.m. and you say to yourself, “Oh this is another thing entirely.”
Often we think poverty and our mind draws up an image of a child in Africa with a belly bloated from starvation. Or a man on the church steps curled up into himself, preparing for the night’s sleep. Concrete Pillow.
But poverty is not merely a barren bank account or a foreclosed home. Not just a pile of food stamps and donated clothes.
Mother Teresa said it best, that poverty of the soul- hunger and thirsting for something to pull a person away from loneliness- is far different than the need for bread and water. There are a lot of us living in poverty right now. Some of us don’t even see it or recognize it after so hastily assigning the face of poverty to that homeless man or that welfare mother.
You cannot always touch it. You cannot always point a finger at it. You cannot take a census of this kind of poverty, good luck packaging poverty for another human being into a statistic. All I can advise is sitting with a person long enough and you will see it in their face. An emptiness in their souls.
Some might say that the worst kind of poverty is a day without a friend, without people to talk with.
We need each other more than we care to admit.
All the things in the world will never be able to shield us from the day when we realize we are alone and we were never really crying out for more clothes and valuables. We were crying out conversation. The comfort of a shoulder aligned next to ours.
It was not until this morning did I realize the poverty in my own life. Standing in the middle of a Sunday church service. People Clapping. Singing. Dancing. Praising Sweet Jesus. And I was envious of them, because they all held hands so easily. They leaned on one another so completely. Someone might look at them and say, “They don’t have so much. I have more money, I have a better home.” I would laugh at this someone and reply, “Don’t you see it? They have everything. Everything that Matters. They will surely keep the world spinning with love for one another.” I think I have met the richest people in all the world.
If you want to stop poverty, you must touch your own first.
I am only two weeks into my service and already I see how easy it is to construct a life around materialism. To live a life outward without ever nurturing the inward. Life gets hard when I can no longer hide behind a piece of plastic to swipe. A full closet. A computer screen and a signature. Life gets hard when you realize that all you have focused on really doesn’t even matter.
The roof is falling in and I am finally dealing with it. I have to. There is no other way. Normally I would attempt to fix the roof all by myself. I am getting used to this idea of others helping me build back up again.
I hope one day a person asks me this: “How do manage to take the insanity of this lifetime? There is so much struggling, suffering, heartache and injustice.”
You see, normally I would respond with some abstract idea about how we are all internally equipped with love and the power to push through. We simply prevail on our own.
But lately I think I might just look down at my hands, the very hands that will do good, good work in the next ten months. Not notice the hands, but notice the gaps. In Between The Fingers. They are welcomed gaps. They are not there by coincidence. The gaps exist for the fingers of another to fit perfectly inside of them. Be it the Love of my Life. A Friend of my Soul. The Ones Who Raised Me. A Stranger. No matter who, the gaps do exist for another.
A constant reminder: We were designed with gaps so that others could fill them. We were not designed to go this road alone.