Sometimes We Don’t Know

This past year has been one of surrendering to all I don’t know.

My heart can become muddled over this process of surrendering.  I carry hope and fear around with me as if they were mini-me’s swaddled and attached to my hip, crying for constant attention as to which will get fed first.  On a daily basis, I can feel my impatience, my need to know, and my hopes and fears. My busy mind wants to distract me with thinking that every thought and feeling I have is very real.

My work becomes something of a cliché of being with what is, right now, right here. It is no easy task, and the most difficult part is getting my brain to join me in this being with what is.  It wants to “do”, and fix and make things happen.  So, I resist answers, and solutions and wonder when and how I will know what is next. It is an untethered feeling but inside, I don’t feel untethered. Inside I know everything is working out.  Not by magic and not by force, but by letting possibilities unfold.

The home I stay in is in a low-income community of Evanston, Il. The children in the neighborhood have lives I know little about.  I only know what I see. From time to time a mom is yelling in a tone of frustration, for their kids to come home, or the kids show up at the park when it is snowing and 32 degrees and they are sockless with feet falling out of their gym shoes, no gloves on and I feel cold for them and send them home to get something warmer. Or, like the other day, I take them to Goodwill and buy them gloves, socks, and boots because they tell me they don’t have things warmer.

When I take my soulful dog, Henry, to the park, they come running, gleefully yelling his name and he greats them with a full body wag and jumps to meet them.  The kids are full of life and energy and adorable!  They seem hungry for a hug and signal me by leaning their head against me, and I ask, do you want a hug and each time, they say yes. So we hug and the sweetness of connection is good. It is one of those moments where I, and perhaps they, can forget our differences of color, age, background and just connect. We talk about Henry, school, life, and they take turns running or walking Henry around the park. I learn a lot from these kids and the innocence they still have. I love them and wonder how I will tell them I will be leaving when I know I will.

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In some cases, these are children, burdened with parenting children. Their side of life is a ways away from what I have known and my kids have known. They raise questions for me that I have always asked about the deep inequality of our society and more profoundly, the deep wounds inequality makes in young people’s souls.

Maybe it is my imagination but it seems there was a time when more of our society and government felt a responsibility and cared about all who did and did not have, who was safe and who had shelter.  There was certainly a feeling that it mattered if our kids were safe at school, which outrageously has become a question and challenged in these times.

I feel such a mix of hope, sadness and, fear for these kids on my block, and what lies in their future.  I know some will thrive no matter what, some will do okay and some will drown regardless of resources, programs, encouragement and plain humanitarian caring.

I want to gather all these kids up, give them 3 square meals a day, teach them about junk food and other things about living healthy, give a few hugs a day as needed, tell them that life works out, and hold them close. Connect them to their roots and offer them wings.  The best I can hope for is that our interactions are positive enough that something about our meetings will stick with them and be something they can use one day.

There is an old Chinese proverb that says parents must give their children two things, roots, and wings.

“I have the roots. Now I want wings…Off to Paris to follow my dreams. Be brave, Ida and Morris.  We will meet again in that starry-eyed city. You know I have always lived by my dreams.  And now they have come true.  Roots and wings, roots and wings.  I’ve got to go, Daddy-o.”

~Max, the dog, from Maira Kalman’s Max Makes a MillionMax Makes a Million

4 thoughts on “Sometimes We Don’t Know

  1. Ellen, I think you are making a huge difference in their lives just by your presence, along with Henry. I can still remember the kindness demonstrated by certain teachers going back to age 6. And when it’s time to move on, have a pizza party with them and leave them an address so they can still have a connection with you. Love you my friend, Carol L from the Point

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  2. Ellen, keep putting your energy out in the world. It feels good and that energy moves into those around you and then they can put it out in the world as well. Its the ripple effect.

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