Yesterday was blazing hot in San Francisco. By this I mean, close to 90 degrees farenheit, a temperature many of you would scoff at, but in our little water bounded hamlet that rarely gets below 40 or above 80, we notice when we sweat. I was at the soup kitchen, scrubbing the twelve burner stove, which was hot work because of the pilot lights and hot water. Some serving dishes had piled up in the industrial sink near me, so I took a break to attend to those. People were commenting on the heat, with some genial complaining, and I happened to look up at one of the tables nearby; there sat a man wearing a large neck brace. It wasn’t the foam kind that are easy to put on and take off with velcro, but one made of hard molded plastic This stopped me. How hot, itchy, and sweaty must he have been beneath that brace? And how difficult must it have been for him to get into the long sleeved shirt he wore? So difficult, I imagined, that he was not going to take it off, regardless of how hot it became. Nor were the people standing in line for salad and soup who’s whole lives were carried in their coats and jackets going to remove them to mark a spot at a table in the dining room or garden, letting in a cooling breeze from the fans moving throughout the dining room. When you carry your home on your back, you don’t leave it anywhere, no matter how hot it gets.
The night before, I’d sat with a couple of friends, toasting the Solstice sun, and talking about projects and plans. After dark, a Heathen priest from Sunna Kindred who volunteers as a prison chaplain set a small blaze in a fire bowl in the garden. Once it was burning well, he brought out several wheels of the year and solar crosses. These had been fashioned by the hands of women prisoners, who, when asked where they got the eucalyptus branches, or roses, or whatever other materials used to form the sacred objects that marked the turning of the year always respond, “Don’t ask.” This means, of course, that they went to great pains to get them. I could speculate here on how – in the midst of barren grounds and electrified fences – but I don’t want to endanger their abilities to gather more, so I will just speculate on the why: It feels important enough to these women – unable to meet without a volunteer chaplain who just happens to have the money for gas to make the long trip out, and just happens to be willing to spend a day off to do so – to mark their observances how they can. They risk a lot for this.
I don’t know why they are in prison, but I do know that these rites provide one way toward healing the rifts in their souls and with the world. Same as the rest of us. As the small yule tree we’d been saving for them caught alight, ribbons of oaths and prayers silently made six months ago sparking upward toward the sky, this thought hit me: “What must it be like to work so hard to gather and make even these simple things? What must it be like to not even have the ability to dispose of your sacred objects when the time comes, the better to send your prayers off to your Gods? What must it be like to rely on someone else to let you gather together at all?”
In other words: What are we taking for granted? What blessings appear in each moment that we barely even notice, because we are used to them, considering them a matter of course? How often are we impatient or dismissive of someone who is struggling with illness or addiction, poverty or fear, simply because we feel healthy, and have a job to complain about? How often are we impatient or dismissive of ourselves? What are we failing to notice?
The things we fail to notice – the small things – are the things that knit our world together, and help to keep us whole. Today, I will make it a practice to notice, and give thanks: for every bite of food, for every muscle stretched and exercised, for this computer I type upon, for the sound of birds and sirens, and the glint of sun on climbing peas, for books to read, and appointments to keep, for all the work just waiting to be done…
Most of us are neither homeless, nor imprisoned, and yet sometimes we live as though we are. What use is freedom if we tie ourselves up inside? Gratitude and presence help us to become more free.
Love to you, this day, whatever your struggles may be. I hope you find some gratitude and grace.