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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

the crime of poverty

photo from the SPLC

photo from the SPLC

It shouldn’t still be happening, but it is: modern day debtor’s prisons. At least in Alabama, where writer Jacob Denney’s story for the Southern Poverty Law Center takes place. A young man, first victimised by a shooting, then hit with a slow-down at work, is ultimately sentenced to jail because he can’t pay his traffic tickets and fines.

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Say what? You’re going to sentence a man with a newborn daughter to 54 days in jail? (One day in jail per $50/ debt.) Because, basically, he’s unlucky and poor?

I thought this kind of legal punishment of poverty went out with the Puritans, but apparently it remains alive and well. At least in Alabama. And I’m certain there are many people who agree with it. All I can see is a boy whose mother tried to give the judge a note from the young man’s employer, stating that work had been slow, but would pick up, and the prisoner would be able to pay something soon.

poverty hands

Image from pixabay.com

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The judge refused to even look at the paper. That’s how little the anti-poor system cares about its victims.

I lived for a month on food stamps, when I was in my early 20s. I had an accident, couldn’t work, and at that age had no savings. My folks helped with my rent, but I had a couple of payments to make, and food was the first thing to go. I understand there being NO MONEY. My mother used to tell me about being so poor she only had two dresses — one to wash, one to wear. Day after day.

We used to say, in America, that being poor was nothing to be ashamed of. And that anyone could rise above rocky circumstances. Unless the law labels them a felon, and puts them in jail. For traffic tickets and fines. So that on every work application thereafter, they  have to check ‘served jail time.’

This can’t be how any faith councils us to treat the poor. Can it? Can it?

 

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the mortality of cats

Kali eating cheese on deskAt her best, my 14-year-old cat Kali is doing great. She can still jump (most of the time) onto my desk to eat the snack I fixed (NOT for her). She usually maneuvers the leap from the coffee table to the arm of my chair, and she can stay a couple of steps ahead of the dogs.

But it’s the beginning of the end, and I have no idea how to negotiate that map.

We’re the people who always wait too long to let go of their animals. A cat who was bleeding internally (who knew??); a dog who finally died on the way to be put to sleep, in my husband’s arms. Another dog who was probably in pain, but a total stoic. And another cat who fought against the car ride to her end.

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Each time, we swear we will go earlier into that good night, making the decision for these beloved members of our family. But how do you know when it’s time? Kali with toy

Because the times she’s not doing well, Kali seems ready. When does the balance tip to darkness and letting go, from taking care of?

These are the kinds of questions I’m no good at. Kali can’t tell me, although when she yowls (she’s part Siamese, as you can see) for no reason, I wonder if she hurts. I know she has arthritis from the bite she sustained before we rescued her (at 5-ish weeks) from a country bar ditch. On a damp day, when my own joints ache in sympathy, I watch her favouring that leg.

And I wonder: how do you know, oh Buddha of letting go, when it’s time?

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a miracle of starlings

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Actually, it’s called a murmuration of starlings. Possibly, as Dylan Winter, the narrator of this amazing clip notes, because of the murmuring of wings.

Whatever the source of the name, the actual sight — even reduced to the size of a computer screen — is breathtaking. Starlings — those blackish birds most of us shoo from feeders — create magic in the fading sky of twilight.

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I think that’s one reason it seems so magical to me: starlings aren’t ‘special’ birds. People don’t fly to Alaska to add starlings to their bird list. But this? I would fly to see this, believe me. Somehow, the idea that ‘ordinary’ starlings can produce such beauty is comforting. If starlings, why not us? Why not you and me?

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belated thank-yous

thank you note1I love writing letters. REAL letters, on stationery, with a pen or rollerball, and the (futile) art of keeping my handwriting legible.

Thank-you notes are my favourite. Unfortunately, sometimes I’m forgetful (well, actually I’m often forgetful!). And formal thank-yous — the kind you write higher-ups — are the worst, for me. Especially if I didn’t even attend the event. The flu hasn’t helped (N.B.: there really is such a thing as ‘flu brain’).

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My father was inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame last November. It’s a big deal, not just because he’s my father. Although certainly that’s the biggest part of it for me! But all the men and women inducted into the OMHoF are amazing: there’s not one who doesn’t deserve the space of book to tell the stories behind the names. DudleyJordanBritton

Since I was my father’s official ‘sponsor’ — even though it took all FOUR of his daughters, a niece, a nephew, and several other friends of the family to put together his packet for submission — I needed to write the thank-you that paid tribute to our ‘Ambassador,’ a lovely Major Roland, who made the submission process and subsequent celebration much easier than they might have been.

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But the day of Daddy’s induction, I was in Birmingham, Alabama, at the 16th Street Baptist Church bombed in the Civil Rights Era, the church where four little girls in Sunday dress were murdered. I was part of the Oklahoma delegation to the Federation of State Humanities Councils, part of the NEH.

Daddy with BuickI’d like to think my dad would understand, as he often had to miss family events. But the conference wasn’t the end of it: then came Christmas, then health and travel and flu and… I finally wrote a VERY belated thank-you for all the wonderful help we received from Major Roland and others this past week. My beginner’s heart was heavy to begin with — it’s SO LATE! — but afterwards? I felt surprisingly good.

Much of my life is like that — tying up loose ends that I’ve let fall through the many cracks in my days. If cracks let the light in, boy: is my life filled with light! And of course, it is. Which almost certainly is the lesson I was supposed to learn months ago…!

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