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We come from God and we return to God.

This truth resonates within the bedrock of my psyche, as well as within the Judaic, Christian, and Islamic scriptures; each glimpses the mystery of creation and orients us toward wisdom in which we discover our true identity: Precious God breathes within us, until our final exhalation.

In many, that orientation was obliterated during Wednesday’s desacration of the U. S. Capitol. In its place, obsessive hatred was king for those dark hours, its aftermath still bleeding among foreign capitols around the world. The crisis continues… 

We continue praying …

Scraggly, whimsical, itchable, disarming, stinking, shuddering, shocking—some reactions I had while tending to the world of the homeless as depicted in the memoir: Grand Central Winter – Stories from the Street (1998). Its author and protagonist, Lee Stringer, a veteran of twelve years on the streets of Manhattan, knows—authenticity bristles in each word—some invented to express the inexpressible—its images often crawl off the pages or meld into belly laughs.

Everywhere, grief lurks, and violence is a razor’s edge from tragedy. The underbelly of breaking the law and getting caught by the “mopes” heightens the twenty-four-seven drama. Even institutions established to meet the needs of the homeless, like the Bowery Mission, Belleville Hospital, the Tombs Prison carry the pallor of the hopeless and their helpers. Bent upon survival, the homeless squat within subways and tunnels beneath Grand Central Terminal; Hell’s Acre becomes their neighborhood. 

Other than Lee Springer, the deftly drawn postage-size characters that flit on and off the pages don’t seem to go anywhere. The story remains the same, with slight variations: desperate for the next hit of crack cocaine or whatever substance is around.

Lee shares the same desperation until discovering a lead pencil in his shirt pocket

that he uses to clean off the screen for that last hit of the evening. Later, he remembers a composition book among his stuff, pulls it free from its entanglements, grabs his pencil, and writes up a memorable experience. In his estimation, it was good, also concurred in by a sober friend.

After years of practice, the obsession of writing replaces Lee Stringer’s former crack cocaine addiction. The residue left on the pages of Grand Central Winter – Stories from the Street is critical, now rendered in eighteen languages.

It has served me well.

Every man knows how useful it is to be useful.

No one seems to know

How useful it is to be useless.

So wrote Chuang Tzu(369 – 286 B.C.), Chinese poet and chief historical spokesman for Taoism.

I get it! Who would have thought that one of old age’s richest lessons, if properly entered into, would be learning uselessness, especially when facing terminal illness and the death of worn out bodies? When learning has dulled in acuity? When words wrestle each other like scamps in weed-infested lots? When progressive minds view the elderly as “useless eaters?”

In retrospect, this paradox is precisely where I find myself. It took months to get here. How I struggled to accept the unacceptable as taught in Chronic Pain Anonymous: increasing uselessness soared with increasing weakness and shortness of breath. Letting go of life-long functions stung: meal preparation, bathing, dressing, business matters, answering phones, dealing with the public, only to be taken over by my spirited caregivers, so patient with my slow learning.

Indeed, I’ve discovered richness within uselessness that quickens fresh roots in my psyche, that properly disposes me to receive the fullness of grace, moment by moment, and that bathes my senses in clarity. This is pure gift. Never could I have imagined it.  

Indeed, an unseen hand holds mine as I stride into the unknown, not without its setbacks.

And to have articulated my new self-understanding through the amplifier of Chuang Tzu’s ancient poem evidences an uncanny Wisdom in our depths! Gladness abounds.

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