Thursday, July 31, 2008

the cost of togetherness

I had just settled in at my table at Mad Hatter’s Bake Shop when Ginger and the news that Manny Ramirez had been traded by the Red Sox to the Dodgers (Manny’s playing for Joe Torre!) arrived at the same time. Over the past few days, Manny has made it clear he wanted out of Boston – more emphatically than his past yearly outbursts – and he got his wish. As he prepared to fly from coast to coast, Ginger was driving a homeless family from the day shelter to the church where they will eat dinner and sleep. On cots. Until someone comes back to drive them to the day shelter again in the morning.

The family was made up of a single mother, who is expecting, and her two-year-old daughter, whom Ginger wanted to bring home. Together, they live a life over which they have little control. The woman said the folks at the shelter offered to give her a weekend pass and she answered, “Where would I go?” She has no means of transportation, nowhere to stay, very little money, and a two year old. The life she’s living may offer her a way out of homelessness eventually, but right now it’s a hard and lonely road.

Part of the reason Manny wanted to be traded was he thought he could make more money as a free agent next year rather than letting the Red Sox pick up the option to extend his contract for two more years. For twenty million dollars. A year.

Ginger and I are both unabashed Manny fans. We’re sad to see him go. I love watching him play because he truly loves playing the game. And he plays hard, even including the “Manny being Manny” moments. Who else will ever climb the outfield wall, catch the fly ball, high five the fan on the front row of the bleachers, come down grinning, and throw the runner out at second to make the double play?

When it comes to the money, Ginger says she cuts him some slack because he grew up in poverty in the Dominican Republic and then joined his parents in New York City (still in poverty, I presume) until he was drafted out of high school by the Cleveland Indians. According to the biography on his website, all Manny ever wanted to do was play baseball. His dad used to take his dinner to the ballpark to make sure he ate. His talent and tenacity offered him a way out of poverty. Even though he has made almost $150 million cumulatively in his career, it appears he isn’t sure it’s enough at some level.

I suppose the obvious connection to make is Manny could build a lot of homes for people like the woman in the shelter, but that ought to be a conclusion Manny comes to on his own, not one I offer here. If all I did with my blog was to tell other folks how to live their lives better, I would change the name to something like “Sit Up Straight and Finish Your Spinach,” rather than “Don’t Eat Alone.”

The connection, for me, is about community. For those of us who consider themselves citizens of Red Sox Nation, Manny was one of the ties that bound us. His enthusiasm for the game gave us reason to cheer. The way he dropped his bat and followed the ball when he hit a home run had less to do with being cocky than it did with his love of the game. You could see it in his eyes: a child like sense of wonder. He had fun playing ball and we had fun watching him. The reality of the business side of baseball, which hits home in the terse transition of his departure, makes that sense of togetherness very tenuous.

And togetherness is tenuous, whatever the game.

As many people as it takes to provide the day shelter and the transportation and the meals and the place to sleep, the woman Ginger drove tonight feels alone. When offered the chance to get away for the weekend, she didn’t say, “Great. I can go stay with my friend.” She doesn’t get to feel together; she is only reminded that life is out to get her.

Strange how a couple of spaces can change what the letters can mean.

Manny’s gone because of money. The woman Ginger met is sleeping on a cot in a church parish hall because of money, or lack of it. When Manny’s contract expires, one of the questions that will show up on the sports shows will be, “Is Manny worth $20 million?”

The answer is, “No.” No one is worth twenty million dollars, whatever they do.

The question, slightly altered, that needs to be asked as we gather in our communities of faith, or wherever we meaningfully come together is: what are the people around us worth?

Let me ask it this way: aren’t they worth more than cots and soup kitchen lines and food stamps and humiliating anonymity? Aren’t they worth our figuring out how to pay whatever bills need to be paid to let them be a part of our togetherness?

The questions sound rhetorical until I look at the way our lives get lived out. As I listened to Ginger talk about her conversation with the woman this afternoon, I realized much of what I do, when it comes to reaching out to those folks who are being trampled by life for any number of reasons is because I want to help, but I don’t necessarily do what I do in a way that lets them know I want to include them. When Ginger finished her conversation, the woman said, “I think I would like to come to your church,” and Ginger offered to help her figure out transportation.

Togetherness is not a myth, nor is it a given. In Jesus’ parable of the Great Banquet (one of my personal favorites), the king tells the servants to go out and compel people to come in until the hall was filled. When the disciples questioned if the five loaves and two fishes would be enough to feed everyone, Jesus told them to just start feeding people and trust they would have enough. The way I’ve always imagined the scene is, as the boy’s lunch was passed and the unabashed sharing became obvious, others who had food of their own thought, “Well, I could share my lunch,” and the next thing they knew they had leftovers. When I watch how inclined we are to hang on to what’s ours, I have no doubt that meal was a miracle.

The stories I’ve heard today have reminded me of the value of togetherness.

And the cost, which is whatever we have to share – which is everything.

Peace,
Milton

4 comments:

dg said...

As a longtime Manny fan from his Cleveland days, I concur that Manny, while a unique star in the baseball constellation, is always entertaining and he will be a hitting machine in LA just as he was in Cleveland and Boston. Manny and the homeless family Ginger was sharing love and life with are part of the ongoing non sequitur of life that shakes me to my core. Another showed up today as sweet little two-year old Thomas Bickle lost his battle with brain cancer. I don't like it...I don't like it that a wonderful young mom and dad lose their only child before they had a chance to see him grow up. I don't like it that a family in the wealthiest country in the world can't scratch together enough resources to have a place to live with adequate food and care. I hate it that sports figures, entertainers, a few CEOs and several mega church pastors make an embarrasingly huge amount of money and there seems to be no commitment to live responsibly in community... yeah...and I'm sad...

dg

Liz said...

I've always thought of the 5 loaves and 2 fishes story the same way. Miracles don't have to require an interventionist God breaking natural laws to be miraculous.

Real Live Preacher said...

What happens to me is I just get tired. I can handle the first woman who shows up. And when I say I'll help her figure out transportation, I do it. And the second and third and so on. But eventually someone comes in and I'm out of gas. And I'm already not handling what I need to handle and the idea that now her transportation is also on my list, a part of my responsibilities, another thing I'll try to do and maybe do well a time or two. But too much.

That's the hard part for me. When do you say no and how do you say no? Ginger always seems to have such an amazing amount of energy for compassion. When does she say no? How does she guard that boundary?

Diane Vogel Ferri said...

We all loved many here in Cleveland - it seems like all our good guys leave us!