Tuesday, January 14, 2014


At twilight on one of the busiest, bicyclist-unfriendliest roads in our neighborhood the other day, this tableau of determination emerged from the darkness and the dizzying strobe of headlights and tail lights.

First I thought, "How?" How is this caravan rolling? How does man pull the trailer, pull woman in wheelchair? How does it not come apart in a great tragedy of metal and bone and blood and tarp under the juggernaut of rush-hour traffic? How do they keep from catching one of their many wheels on a rock or lip of tarmac and disappear into a ditch? How do they keep going?

Then I thought, "How?" How did they get here? How did woman get in a wheelchair? How did their belongings become this caravan? How do they keep going? Where do they go?

I've seen the couple on a corner of the same busy, angsty street. The man holds a cardboard sign written so wanly it's illegible. The woman sometimes waves. Their conveyances must be stowed behind the sign for the drug and grocery store there.

I never have money to give. I never feel comfortable giving at intersections, not that I wouldn't if I could, but the timing, the causing of people to approach my car while the light may change and the traffic may move and other drivers might not see the exchange and put the people in peril.

I could pull over and give money if I had it. I could go buy a meal and deliver it, assuming that's what they wanted. But I don't. I always have somewhere to go.

I'm nothing if not armed with reasons and defenses.

Do I open my home? Do I act my faith? Do I endanger by doing so? I'm moved and stuck and struck.

The image of the caravan has etched in me.

Don't laugh: I can't help but think of an episode of M*A*S*H, made to look like a TV news special, filmed in black-and-white, in which an actual news reporter, Clete Roberts, asks personnel about their experiences in Korea.

The writers drew on a real moment from the war when the reporter asked Fr. Francis Mulcahy if his time in Korea has changed him.

"When it's cold here, like it is today, and the doctors are operating, they will make an incision and the steam rises from the open wound," Mulcahy answers. "And the surgeon will warm his hands over the steam of the open wound. How could anyone look upon that and not be changed?"

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