I sit here with my morning cup of coffee and look at the sun lighting up the weathered wood of the fence. The birds are chirping in a sweet chorus. There is no wind. Not even a hint.

Late yesterday afternoon I heard a knocking sound. I assumed at first that someone was knocking at the door. 

When I opened it, I saw the new maintenance guy, James, working on the thick wooden post that helps hold up my tiny porch roof. I had mentioned to him that the wood does not connect to the concrete floor. That termites had long ago eaten it away. 

Of course I’d said this to a handful of maintenance men since I moved here. But there he was on his knees attempting to fix it with shims and tools. I said hi, I thought I heard someone knocking, and he looked up and greeted me.

I closed the door, then my curiosity got the better of me and I opened it again, and I asked him about the apartment that has the tree growing in it. Or I guess I should say tree roots.

He told me that the roots came up from the patio and into the dining room. 

I asked him what it looked like. He said it broke up the floor. 

I asked him what happened to the residents that lived there. 

He told me they moved them to another apartment. 

He is using that apartment as an extra office until he can wade through the mess in the maintenance shed that he inherited. 

I told him I didn’t want to move. That I’d made too many improvements to this one.

After I closed the door, I got to thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if everyone took things on. Didn’t just mentally file your complaint and walk away. But got busy and took on the problem at hand before it got worse.

I started thinking about how that applied to the world at large. How people close their eyes to problems and go on their merry way. Unless it involves someone close to them. 

Of course everyone has a limit to their time. People work or they’re parents, and that’s a hell of a lot of work! And so it goes. 

But as we shuffle along the sidewalk of life (and I’m as guilty as anyone else), we walk around homelessness and need and obvious mental illness right there in front of us. 

We see it and our brain registers it, but then we quickly start thinking of supper or some pressing problem of our own. 

And the image of hopelessness fades. 

When I was younger, I was more of a crusader. I got in there and sifted through the detritus of societal problems that no one wants to acknowledge. And it wasn’t that I fixed it in any way. I wrote about it. Because that’s what I knew how to do. 

I could get folks to see the prevailing problem right in front of them. But my writing about it was a mere blip on the radar screen of tragedy in the world. 

What I could do was just make people register it for maybe a few minutes longer.

Still, it was what I knew I could do. And I wasn’t sure how to do anything else. 

We all have talents. Some more obvious than others. But it is what makes us unique, and gives us at least a starting point of knowing where we can do the most good. 

You only have to turn on the news or the internet to see daily suffering. It seems far removed. 

But really it isn’t.

And we do what we do when we walk around the homeless, giving them a wide berth. We register dismay and we move on with our day. 

I don’t have the answers. I wish I did. 

But closing our eyes to it, walking around it, or crossing the street so we don’t have to be near it doesn’t solve anything.

I guess we have to ask ourselves what it is that we can do in the face of suffering and wrongdoing.

Instead of just giving it a wider and yet wider berth. While watching the problem get bigger and bigger.

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  1. Reading your post made me think of the quote from Mother Theresa which is: "Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love." We must not underestimate the value of the smallest gesture of compassion or the gift of all that we can afford. We are adding to the positive energy of the Universe and every little bit counts, I do believe.

  2. I am glad to hear that someone is fixing your little porch. I live in a province where there are more than 10,000 children in care and I used to just see them at church, (because a lot of people in our church are foster parents) and I would catch glimpses of the pain that they experienced, but I would shut my mind to it and go home and sleep the night away… until one night when I awoke and the picture of a little boy that I had seen, was in my minds eye, he was scrunched down in a corner with his little head in his arms crying his heart out. That happened several times, until I realized that God was trying to tell me something. That little boy led me to do what I'm doing now, taking care of children in distress. I no longer walk by children without wondering how safe they are in their homes and if someone is feeding them or if perhaps they are being used for their parents own selfish needs.
    When it comes to homeless people, I send money to a downtown mission that is known for being honest and feeding homeless people. I offer food to panhandlers when I can and I help them by donating daily necessities to people to give them to these people. I often think, "There but for the grace of God go I".

  3. Great post Brenda. I don't know what it's like where you live but where I live there are pan handlers on almost every corner with signs saying things like "disabled homeless veteran, anything will help", "homeless and hungry, please help", etc. I want to help… but I just don't know if they are telling the truth. I've heard stories that many of them are not homeless and make a great living doing that. I myself can't imagine standing on a corner with a sign to make a living. Also, we have a mission where they can go to eat and sleep so I always wonder why they don't go there. If I was brave enough I would talk to some of them and ask questions.


  4. I help out in my own small, meek way when I can (I've bought homeless people food; I donate to food pantries; donate money to Salvation Army; have done volunteer work in my community, etc) but I know it's just a drop in the bucket. However, if we all do small deeds that are like little drops, it can lead to overflowing buckets. Better than sitting on our butts and doing nothing. Great post.

  5. How wonderful that you now have a handy man that actually is proactive-rather than waiting until something actually falls completely apart. It is too bad the maintenance area has been left in such a mess. I suppose that is just insult to the injury and he has no time to straighten up the area because he is knee deep in repairs that need to be done. xo Diana

  6. Well said, Brenda. I do what I can where I can – and right now I am dumbfounded by the state of our political world – again, I will do what I can where I can to counterbalance what I see as some really horrible injustice. Everyone has the ability to make this world a better place, it matters even in the very smallest of ways… donating a box of nonperishables to the food bank – clothes to good will, lunch or a warm pair of socks to a homeless person, kind words – they're free.

  7. This is a beautiful post. We are our brothers' keepers. I was like you in the past. I volunteered a lot, even went to Africa and lived for a couple of years without electricity or running water, knowing all the time that even those conditions were more privileged than most people could dream of. A family makes it hard to take off for Africa now. But we can do a lot to help–contribute time, money, food, clothes. Every action makes a difference.

  8. Addiction and substance abuse is the root of most issues we see in society, and the question of mental illness is right in there, too. Are addicts self-medicating because of mental issues? Most of the alcoholics in my family are not mentally ill, but they are definitely addicts. I think they're may be more mental health issues among drug addicts, but that's strictly anecdotal on my part. And then there is the whole issue with schizophrenics, bi-polar etc. who won't take their medication.

    Many problems are self-induced and self-perpetuated. And some people have zero coping skills, just like some have zero pain tolerance. I think that's the key to life…..how well you can cope. There aren't too many options for those who can't and it seems to be something you're born with.

    No easy answers, but we should never stop trying to help whoever we can. Knowing how to help rather than enable is important.

  9. a powerful wonderful post Brenda.
    my own passion is animal welfare. most especially the factory farm animals.
    they have no choice. and they have NO VOICE.
    the concentration camps in which they're raised until they're killed… and the way they're treated. it's ALL an abomination of inhumanity.
    and the words of William Wilburforce are true…
    "you may choose to look the other way. but you can never again say that you did not know."
    everybody knows how they're treated. and yet they just keep eating those millions of cheap hamburgers… and pulled pork… which is one of the most intelligent creatures there is… the pig.
    most people DO know the HELL in which these innocent animals live…
    the words FACTORY and FARM should go together. the animals are not machines. they are intelligent living breathing animals who know extreme pain and distress. and who endure both until they die. but people choose to look the other way. as you say… it's easier for them.
    i'm so glad you have james now in the complex. and knowing you appreciate him will make him feel better! i can see how it could seem like a thankless job otherwise.

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