Thursday, October 1, 2009
The Return of the Magic Door
For ten years I lived in a house where, on any given day, the doorbell might ring and present an interesting scenario. Our neighborhood was located near a busy street with a lot of foot traffic. Our house was not far from a light rail station. On many an occasion, something I could never have predicted sought me out through my front door.
A friend of mine joked that I must have a magic door because the only people that ever visited her house were people trying to sell things. To offer a sample of the varied situations that ended up at my door: I once had a woman in active labor ring the doorbell. Another time a man seeking a blanket taught me more about the human decency we all possess than an entire childhood attending church did. A lost monk once sought direction. More than one lost pet found my front porch, and found its way home by being glimpsed through that door. Those are only a few of the situations that came into my life, over the course of a decade. The ways in which life came to my door and sought me out were many and varied for the simple reason that I was there to answer the ring of a doorbell, or glimpse a shadow on the porch.
In the suburbs the only time the doorbell rings is when something we have requested comes to call. Certainly when neighbors came by to introduce themselves, the doorbell rang. Visitors, friends came to call, but mostly pizzas, UPS packages and the occasional lawn service were the only things that found the front porch. We don't even use the front door, we mainly enter through the door in the garage. There's a swing on our front porch I've never even sat upon, and the two wicker chairs that decorate it were left by the previous owner. I missed my magic door.
I spent a lot of the summer fretting about two things: Health care and a soap opera taking place at my husband's work. Health care reform has taken a beating, and I've already done everything I can to participate. Now I just watch with an increasingly sore heart. The soap opera resolved itself with no harm done to us, but my view of basic human decency took a bit of a beating in more ways than one.
This is a planned community, in fact, this is a planned city. All of it is centered around the idea of a planned community. There are rec centers galore, paid for by a group of homeowners associations. The entire city is a homeowners association, I'm not joking either, I moved to a suburb with a lot of planning and approval committees. It's a strange, but tidy life where the doorbell never unexpectedly rings.
When I moved here I searched for a charity within the city to see if there was anything I could volunteer to do. In an entirely planned city it turns out that there isn't much need. Feeling a little let down, I wasn't sure what to do. This is an enclave of privilege, and whereas I'm very grateful for my life, I actually don't relate well to people who appear to be strangers to hardship. Appearances have always been deceiving though, and I'm old enough to know that.
In this house we have a large formal living room which is still almost entirely empty, and will remain so until I decide what kind of furniture to buy for it. Not exactly a heavy burden to bear, is it? We bought this house primarily because we wanted the pool.
I was standing in my living room, for no reason whatsoever beyond having paused there, when I saw a brown paper bag on my front porch. One with a white sheet of paper stapled to it. I knew what that signaled, someone was collecting for a food bank. I've always liked food banks. Direct impact charities are wonderful. If you buy a can of beans for a food bank, that very same can of beans will end up in the hands of someone who needs it. Direct impact. No sitting back and waiting, or watching for anything.
But it wasn't the average food drive run by the Boy Scouts, which was what I had assumed. It was from one of my neighbors, a man I'd never met, but who at some point during that morning had walked up on to my front porch and placed it there. He was collecting for a food drive run by his church, but he volunteered for the organization in downtown Denver also.
My son was nearby when I picked up that bag, and the attached paper listed the goals of the church's food drive, but also mentioned that the food pantry of the Denver charity was empty. Empty underlined twice.
My son went to the store with me, pushing a separate cart to make it easier to buy for our household, and the food bank separately. The haul exceeded the limitations of the brown paper bag, so I needed to contact my neighbor to arrange a time to drop off the food. Then it turned out that help was needed in sorting it. Then it turned out that volunteers were sorely needed at the downtown facility. What the heck, right? I had the time.
On Tuesday the public health care option took a terrible blow. Insurance reform seems the best we can hope for now, and whereas that is something, it won't address the needs of many. Having access to health care being tied so firmly to an individual's job is precarious, to say the least. Particularly in times of a recession, when the shelves of food banks end up empty for a reason. As that story broke, I was busy thinking about grouping protein sources, and thinking it would be helpful to people to have a list of what items aren't particularly helpful to donate. All the Hamburger Helper in the world doesn't mean much if a person can't buy the hamburger to put in it, after all.
Reading opinions on health care had made me wonder how it was that so many had come to care only about their own, personal concerns, but my front porch led me back to the knowledge that regardless of views on the role of government, people often do care very much.
There's nothing magical about the door, is there? That's what you probably want to tell me. My neighbor left those bags on everyone's front porch. Nothing mystical going on there.
You're right, of course. Only my very nice neighbor isn't a very practical man, in some respects. You see, there is one other thing about this community you should know, we're on high ground and the wind coming down off the foothills is intense. He hadn't put the bag underneath the welcome mat, or the box for our milk delivery. He hadn't secured it in the door either. He'd laid it politely on top of the welcome mat, and because he works at home during the day, he'd hadn't thought of how many people would not be home during those hours, and set them out early. Most blew away as mine was trying to do when I caught sight of it.
Nothing to that other than good timing. Again, you're right, of course.
But I do find it interesting that the charity I searched for when we moved here was a food bank. Anyone who knows me, knows I have a soft spot for food banks. When I do someone a favor, and they say they owe me one? I tell them to give a couple of cans of food to a food bank and we'll call it even.
I'm willing to accept that there is nothing magical about my front door, even though it saved me from fretting myself into a state of despair. Wondering what will become of our nation if we cannot learn to care about, and for each other would have likely plunged me into dark thoughts on Tuesday had it not been for a paper bag, and a well timed glance out of a window.
Nothing magical, but a stroke of luck, to be sure. At least in the timing, and I submit to you that there may have been magic in that timing. After all, after a summer of fretting my faith in people was beginning to be lost. On Tuesday five Democrats were key to voting down the public option. That public option was the best hope of many. Hope was lost in one area, and I was busy thinking about how to group foods for a food bank thanks to some good timing, and the return of my magic door.