There has been a topic running through my head since moving back to Sacramento. Because it is a ‘real’ city, Sacramento has a full range of people and lifestyles. The good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly are all on view.

Everyday I see men and women in wheelchairs – some missing a leg, others carrying an extra 100 or 200 pounds in weight – rolling down the side walk to their destinations. I see elderly ladies loaded down with grocery bags and young mothers pushing prams waiting for the city bus. I see a blind man with a white cane tapping his way across the street and I gasp.

There are military vets at the intersections with signs saying “will work for food” or “everybody needs help sometime.” There are overturned trash cans along the sidewalks and walls with graffiti staking out territories. There is the background wail of ambulances and police cars, and silent alley ways are littered with broken syringes and cardboard boxes.

In the clean, quiet and middle class, suburban neighborhoods I have frequently lived in, all unpleasantness is hidden away, along with the cemeteries, halfway houses and methadone clinics. These neighborhoods have the resources to hide their imperfections from the common view, and are reminded to be charitable by walk-a-thons and occasional money-raising appeals.

But when the less fortunate are not included in the communal photo, all suffer. Those in need do not receive the help and attention they require, and those who are temporarily blessed lose an opportunity to learn gratitude and compassion. For if life teaches us anything, it is that it is a cyclic and this Wheel of Fortune is constantly turning.

The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike which means that forces greater than our personal desires, affirmations and actions have the power to change the course of our lives. Today’s socialite can become tomorrow’s drug addict; today’s athlete can tomorrow be struggling with cancer; today’s suburban family can tomorrow be living in a car.

When I was younger, two close friends and I used to believe that as soon as this or that crisis was over, every thing will be okay. We didn’t realize at that time that nothing is constant – the good or the bad. We kept waiting – and waiting – for things to stablize. But when one part of our lives would get better, some other area would disintegrate.

Eventually, and reluctantly, I learned to appreciate the present rather than yearn for some better time in the future. Once you give up hope, everything becomes clearer. So today when I drive the city streets and see those less fortunate than I am, I feel compassion – not in an ‘I’m better or luckier than they’ sort of way, but as a recognition that we are all part of the human family not matter what our faces, histories, or circumstances.

I now carry a handful of dollar bills in the car and when I see someone carrying a sign and asking for help, I no longer ‘think’ about whether I should give, or whether he looks ‘honest’ or how he will spend the money. These dollar bills are not mine but simply passing through my hands to other destinations. So I roll down the window and pass one through. In every single instance, the recipient has always said, “Thank you and God bless you,” and I have felt that blessing –  whether it was sincerely meant or  not is not my concern.

And when I pass people in wheelchairs or old women struggling, or street people stumbling, I mentally say, “God bless you,” and feel that blessing in myself. So who is it who has given, and who is it who has received?


3 thoughts on “THE GRACE OF GOD

  1. Not to belittle what you do at all, Marie, but I often wonder if there is something we can do which does not involve money. I believe that money – its acquisition and its concentration – lies at the root of what you see, and even if you pass some on to these desperate and grateful people it will, eventually, pass to someone who has more than they do, and so onwards to whomever has the most. We need to foster in people an alternative to the ‘work hard and get on’ ethic, and it has to be one of mutual aid for its own sake.

    A friend of mine – I wish it had been myself, but I lack the courage and strength – used to walk to church every Sunday, and would pass a place where a building overhung and a hot air vent gave out onto the pavement. This was a favourite place for one or two homeless people or transients to sleep rough, because it was sheltered and warm. He carried a flask of coffee with him and would sit down and chat, to one man in particular. They chatted about nothing in particular, my friend didn’t proselytise, and he said afterwards that there were times he couldn’t rightly understand what the guy was saying. Passers-by often took my friend for a homeless person too, or else why would he be hanging out there sharing a flask. He didn’t mind.

    My friend thinks he didn’t do enough, that he could have done a lot more. He believed, as I believe, that things should be done for their mutual and social worth, not for personal gain. He believes that we sell our souls for personal gain, and that we can’t eat money. It truly can’t buy happiness but only make misery more comfortable.

    Now more than ever, when the economy that we have all taken as being somehow ordained by heaven, that we believed underpinned our supposed freedom, is collapsing and showing us what slaves we all are, we need more people who are prepared to work for mutual support rather than personal gain. This, not some mythical and mystical great governing hand of economic self-righting, is what will save and civilise the human race.


    1. I understand what you are saying and appreciate you taking the time to comment. What I am doing – or trying to do – now is responding to what comes into my life without judging its value or importance, etc. When I am asked, I give what I can – sometimes it is money, sometimes it is time, sometimes it is more silent. Next week I will be volunteering some time at an Alzheimer’s center and doing a storytelling/poetry program. This is not something I sought out, nor have a special affinity for, but it ‘came up’ in my life so some kind of spiritual magnetism is at work. I have often been wary of life and its expectations so now I am learning how to say ‘yes’ without thinking so much. Undoubtedly, I will receive more than I give. Marie


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