The shelter boots us out at 5:45 a.m. daily. You must take all your belongings with you and cannot come back until 2:30.
Until February 2013, my custom on non-work days was to go to Dunkin’ Donuts to pray, drink coffee and use the bathroom, until the library would open at 10:00 and I could go online. Then the temp agency closed down, and I could no longer afford Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, and so began going to McDonald’s instead.
Some days I would arrive at Dunkin’ Donuts before opening. One such morning, I arrived to find a large, neat pile of human feces on the doorstep. It was clearly no accident. Who had left it there, and why, had no bearing on the fact that it was there now.
When staff arrived we opened the door and stepped inside very carefully to avoid any contact between the door and the stool, or our feet and the stool. However, I knew that if nothing were done about it, eventually, inevitably, customers who could not take the time to be as observant and careful would step in it and begin tracking it through the store.
The manager at the time was a very young man whom I don’t much care for. Be aware: I’d spent hours in that store almost every day for nearly 18 months, and had had plenty of time to observe the staff. Under this fellow’s predecessor, and again under his successor, staff turnover had been and would be nil. Under his leadership, in contrast, it was constant.
I overheard the phone call when he reported the situation to his district manager: “It’s not my responsibility.” Sorry, pal, but methinks it is. I confess that when I was his age I probably would have taken the same view. Now, however, at a bit more than twice his age, I had some impulse as a customer to say, “Hey, give me a bucket and some gloves and bleach and a scrub brush, and I’ll clean it myself.” For whatever reason I don’t recall, I did not.
And sure enough, before long, customers were tracking it through the store.
In the summer of 2010, before I became homeless, my living situation was as the “super” (resident caretaker) of a rooming house in a neighborhood that was the absolute pits. My tasks obviously included emptying the trash. That summer, given the fact that City trash collection had been cut back to once a week, and that tenants were insisting on throwing kitchen food wastes in the wastebasket rather than were I asked them to, and a protracted extreme heat wave; emptying the kitchen wastebasket, every third day, meant dealing with handfuls of maggots.
I pondered my having to do that, and having to live there, and my neighbors for whom frankly the maggots were practically metaphors; and this insight came to me about spiritual growth:
You can’t fly with the angels if you won’t also crawl with the worms.
Jesus was willing to crawl with the worms.
Qabala teaches that at the core of every human being is “a spark of the divine,” the nitzotz. Jesus made a number of remarks consistent with this view. Birur nitzotzot, or “refining the sparks,” pertains to liberating that divine core from the decidedly non-divine material that may have built up around it; like a diamond in the rough, or gold buried in mud. (A good video: “Sifting gold.”)
The precious God-child within will never be rescued unless someone puts his or her hands into that material and does so.
Given the sort of people Jesus hung out with — drug addicts, tax collectors and prostitutes — it can be said that he willingly put his hands into the wastes of society in order to rescue people who are precious to God.
A great deal is available to say about condescension and how it’s neither noble nor shameful, but instead merely necessary.
It may not be pleasant, but someone’s got to do it.
(Originally posted 2014-10-11.)
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