Wishing well.


I’m having knee replacement surgery tomorrow. I know I’m lucky that I can afford the health insurance that makes this possible, lucky that I’m in excellent health otherwise, lucky that my recovery will likely be smooth and complete, lucky that Dick will care for me through this. All week, messages have come from friends and family wishing me well. My knitting group, fantastic Duluth women, delivered a week’s worth of homemade food for us. I’m grateful for all of this. And yet, I haven’t shaken the feeling that it isn’t fair to interrupt my life for surgery so that I can simply enjoy walking again. There’s going to be a lot of sitting around before I can move the way I want to.

And then a couple of things happened that knocked me into a better perspective.

My dad, appreciative of the medical care my mom received in her final year, and mindful of the news from Aleppo, decided to donate to Doctors Without Borders instead of buying gifts for children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. He knows it’s a way to step outside the fortune of our family ties to acknowledge that families very much like ours have unbearably sad burdens that they somehow bear, every day. I’m glad he’s doing this, especially as we turn the corner into whatever the new year will look like, here in the U.S. and around the world.

Then, my Book Club in the Twin Cities decided not to continue the traditional book exchange where we all bring a wrapped book, open them one by one, and try to guess who gave which book. This usually becomes the larger part of our reading list for the coming year. But there are other ways to make a reading list. Instead, we are donating items requested by one of our members for her homeless clients. Jane, a former ballet dancer, went back to school a decade ago to get her R.N. degree. Now, she’s a public health nurse in St. Paul, who begins her days at 4:30 a.m. wearing a headlamp to visit homeless people wherever they are camped.

When we asked what we should buy, Jane answered by email:

The people on the streets are there for a variety of reasons; poor mental health is always a factor and most of the people I have met have fallen through the cracks, unable to obtain housing because they are not able to follow through a long list of requirements that would enable them to do so.  And, aside from other street homeless, they have few friends or family.

I do see women, but mostly men and except for 3 rather emaciated men, the majority are large — tall and big.  Big hands and big feet.

Anything you give, I will send you a story in return about who I brought that particular gift to and how they reacted to it.  I would imagine that not many of my people I see will be receiving wrapped gifts.  Whatever it is, please add a tag for me with what the item is and size so I can deliver what is most needed to a particular person.

What we need: I’ll start big to small:  pup tents; sleeping bags, sleeping matts for comfort; backpacks; battery operated radios with batteries; flashlights with batteries; warm clothing: gloves (warm gloves and socks (wool);  long underwear (tall  and large or extra large); warm hats (large sizes) and gift cards to restaurants downtown so they can get out of the cold early in the morning or late at night and go get something to eat and something warm to drink and so they can be inside out of the cold.  Some ideas are Brueggers, Micky’s Diner and Cosetta’s. Not Holiday (which is close to where lots of people camp) because they sell cigarettes. If you have second-hand jackets and second-hand boots  that you are discarding, please think of me.

While I was digesting this message, Jane sent another message:

I was out this morning (with our doctor, Mark) and saw someone I neglected to think about for gifts…  I will call him C. His first language is Spanish. He lives about 2 blocks (for lack of a better easily understandable reference) down a bluff deep into the trees (now bare, of course). One couldn’t see him from the road or even at the top of the bluff, but once I start walking down the bluff, I am able to spot the top of his blue tarp. There is stuff jettisoned everywhere —some of it from previous occupants. I spot a typewriter, old baby carriage, bicycle tires, a bike pump, a urinal (someone visited a hospital), old shoes, old Kowalski bags, a baseball bat, a soccer ball, an old sink, a stuffed pink bear that is missing an ear, a pile of summer clothing, old broken bottles of every manner of drink. The usual junk we see — but here there is something magical: C has pots of fake flowers everywhere. He told me he loves flowers and tried to grow roses last summer. A little shady here for roses. He also has Christmas ornaments strung up, a shrine with Mary and Jesus, and a makeshift door (an old cupboard door strung with rope). He has hanging bells so he can hear visitors.
When we look at these pots of flowers, Mark and I cry. C is very fearful of people. When I inspected the skin condition on his hands the first time I met him, I asked him what happened to his finger.  He said he was attacked at age 7 and the people who accosted him cut off his finger. He used to work as a dishwasher or line cook in a Mexican restaurant on the west side but was told to leave because of his skin condition. This morning at 6 a.m. he was getting ready to go to work. He was so proud of the fact he was just hired to clean a different Mexican restaurant in off-hours. He is happy to have any work. He walks about 2 miles to the restaurant…
Last night he hardly slept for fear of missing his first day of work. So, what does he need?  A watch. A simple inexpensive watch. Probably better than a battery operated clock that could get wet.  Because of his skin condition, he needs a non-metal band on the watch.  The simpler the better.
We serve the undocumented, but C is very fearful.  Like the fox and the little prince, where the fox tells the prince he has to return at the same time and same place every day if he wants to tame him or make friends with him, Mark and I went back every week at the same time and we started by leaving bag lunches and notes. It took almost 4 months for C to talk to us. C also needs boots… his shoes are falling apart. They are too big, plastic and have holes (Crocs).  
So… as I stored the delicious food my friends made for me, I thought of Dad’s decision to donate. I thought of C and the rest of Jane’s clients. I tried to imagine what it feels like to be alone — to feel absolutely alone — in the world.
And I couldn’t imagine it. The truth is, when difficult things have happened in my life, there have been people who wished me well, and who helped my life become well.
There are people who wish me well. Such a simple thing — shouldn’t everyone be able to count on that? And yet… so many people can’t.
I’m going to have a lot of time sitting still in the coming weeks to think about what I can do to change that.