2 Corinthians 9:10-11 10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
One cold night, last November, my son and I drove through the dark to the Queersgiving potluck. I am nervous on the road so seldom go out after dark, but it was a party. I wanted to support the event and my son, Mr. Social, was ready for fun. I avoided the main roads, and therefore most of the traffic, heading toward main street. It was almost six o’clock, so I knew it would be empty of both people and traffic. The road in front of me shone warm with the yellow white glow of the Christmas lights in the trees. The chill in the air lent itself to the spirit of the holidays, decorations sparkling in the darkened store windows. We were going to a party. I coaxed myself in the direction of cheer.
The street was silent. The stores were all closed. Few cars passed me and no shoppers walked the tree-lined walks. Then, I saw something out of place. In the shadow of a doorway something moved. A person. A layer of my party spirit fell away. A few more store fronts down, two more bundled shapes moved in the shadows. Peppered along this street were people, huddled in doorways, fighting a losing battle against the cold. It was near freezing. Dark. I was on my way to a party. Block after block, I saw the bundled bodies of people who were not going to be eating Thanksgiving dinner that night. My already reluctant cheerfulness fell away in hunks as I saw one person after another pressed into the cold stone of the darkened shops.
Near our destination, I saw a few more people. One man was in a wheelchair. My cheerfulness gone, I burst into tears. There would be no Queersgiving holiday spirit for me. Every speck of my awareness was pulled into the black hole of homelessness, the shadowed and unseen place where people live out of sight of those who have reason to celebrate. My scattered being, tittering fragments cast about by anxiety, were savagely drawn down into one, dark, heavy fist of grief.
Inside, the room was full of joyful voices. The buffet table was covered from end to end with a kaleidoscope of colored dishes full of food made for friends. In my mind, I scooped from dish after dish, filing plates for the people outside. The event’s coordinator, Megan, was personing an information table. On the table were hats and scarves she had knitted for our homeless neighbors. I pulled her aside.
“There are some people right around the corner, homeless people,” my eyes were brimming with tears. “Towards the end of the dinner, would it be ok to fix some plates to take around the corner?” Of course, Megan said yes. I found a place to sit down and tried to join the party. Instead, I grabbed everyone who passed near me and told them, through my tears, that there were people around the corner who were hungry and cold. I recruited a few helpers to carry plates and then counted the minutes until it was time to help myself to the leftovers.
As the party goers nibbled their desserts, I packed the plates. We made five. I put as much meat on each one as I could, picking desperately at the turkey carcass on the buffet. Meat is not something one often gets when homeless, especially not delicious roasted turkey. I selected the richest, most delicious foods still available, then headed for the door. Rolls and cupcakes teetered atop the mounded plates, my helpers struggling to hold all the food in place. My son hurried ahead with napkins and plastic wear, anxious to minister to new friends.
Around the corner, our extended gifts were met with gratitude and surprise. A nervous shuffle of cups and plates and soon each person in the alcove had a meal. I needed to get my child out of the cold. We needed to go back to the party. But standing there on the sidewalk, it felt unfinished. I wasn’t ready to walk away. The man in the wheelchair was gushing, thanking us again and again for the food. His energy grew in me like a crackling flame and I felt my body moving towards him.
In a moment, my arms were around him. I bent in the cold, drawing him into me as much as I could as he sat in his chair. His arms flew out and pressed into me powerfully. “OH!! OH!!!” he cried out, “THANK you! THANK you!! OH!!”
Suddenly, there was no cold. There were no plates. There was only the man in my arms, and me in his. There was no party. No street. Only his arms and his voice as he relished this human contact, something more rare and precious to him even than the turkey I had so carefully harvested. We held each other there, new residents of our private island, insulated against cold, against invisibility, against indifference. Walls around us trembled and fell as a citizenship in a new community was born. Finally, he held me at arms length and looked at me deeply. “Thank you…”, he said, again. My whole evening came to rest in his eyes. In those moments, I had attended my Thanksgiving party.
The following week, temperatures took a dive. The thermometer was expected to hit low 20s at night. The man in the wheelchair was burned into my mind. Talk of the shelter closing was heavy. I couldn’t stop crying. Tearful conversations were the only kind I had as I told person after person what had happened Queersgiving night. “What can we do?” I asked each one. “How can we help?” But the problem of homelessness is a complicated, many tendrilled creature for which there are no easy solutions. No one had answers. I continued to cry.
Then came the weather report. The first official night near twenty would be on Tuesday. Darkness descended as Tuesday approached. I felt insane with anxiety and sadness. I was desperate to do something. I had put aside a little money for Christmas foods for our home. I asked my son what we really needed for special food for Christmas. Would it be ok to just eat what we always did, and spend this money on a pot of chili? My son, passionate activist and minister to so many, my angel on earth, leapt up, “YES!” Still crying, I headed for the door.
Tuesday night, we hit the streets. A pot of chili, complete with cheese and sour cream to top it, sourdough bread, gingersnaps and fifty pairs of hand warmers donated by friends were in the trunk. My friend, Leslie, came along to be my eyes and emotional support. I drove slowly up and down streets while she looked for shapes in doorways. When we found someone we would leap out, prepare a meal, and hand off the steaming container to our new friend. My son, bursting with ardent love, flew ahead with napkins and cookies. The energy in us rose with each stop as we felt the Spirit lead us on.
As soon as we hit main street, I saw my friend in the chair. I parked and sprung from the car. “It’s YOU!” he cried out, “YOU! You are an angel! Ever since I met you last week I have been filled with the love of God. Filled with the Holy Spirit!” I threw my arms around him and held on. It was like finding an old friend. We laughed and hugged out in the painfully crisp night. Quickly, I gave him two pairs of hand warmers. Quickly, I served up two heaping cups of chili, topping it with cheese and sour cream. My new friend’s head lolled with pleasure as he took in the smell. It was still very hot, burning hot, and he held it close against his chest. As I fed him out there in the dark, he fed me through his eyes. I knew I had done the right thing by going out that night. How, I wondered, would I manage to do it, again?
The night was a whirlwind. In short order, my ladle was clanking against the bottom of my pot. Every ladle full was a sacrament, every embrace a prayer. I had met so many people. My head swirled with names and faces as I turned the car towards home. There was one more spot we would check. A tucked away place against an empty building in my neighborhood often sheltered someone. We had just enough to serve one more, if someone was there.
I parked near the corner of the empty building. I asked my friend, Leslie, to check the spot for me while I waited with my son in the car. She was back in a moment with her report. “There is someone there, but they are completely covered up and not moving. I didn’t want to bother them.”
It didn’t feel right to me. There was food in the pot. Just enough. I would serve just one more meal. I pushed myself out into the bitter dark and prepared that one last portion. As I approached, I saw the shape. Deep in a sleeping bag on a pile of insulating trash an unmoving figure lay. I put the food and hand warmers on a nearby ledge and bent low. In a quiet voice I said, “I’ve brought you some food. It’s still warm. If you can hear me, you might want to eat it before it gets cold. There are some hand warmers, too…”
The figure shifted. I paused. As they moved, I realized their back was facing me. A corner of the sleeping bag lifted as the emerging head below turned.
His eyes met mine. My breath froze in my lungs when I saw him. His brilliant eyes shone in a face set like a jewel against the green of the sleeping bag resting in the trash. His face spread with a radiant smile. “Thank you,” he told me, and I was unable to move. My throat closed around tears as I stared. He was glowing. His radiance shone all around his placid face, a halo of peace and love. “Thank you…” he said again. The air around us was pulled into that spot. The world rested, just for a moment, in the sea of his eyes. His cheeks were peach, like a child, framed in the curly brown of his beard. I couldn’t look away. Tears broke the edges of my eyes, leaving cold streaks along the heat of my cheeks. “You’re welcome,” I said. “I love you…” I said; and I turned toward my car, toward my mission, as I carried with me the face of God.