A Blanket

In an article over at Daily Yonder last week I read this:

Last Christmas, a little 9 year old girl at Dixie Elementary, a small, rural school in the Appalachian coalfields of West Virginia, was asked what she wanted for Christmas. Instead of the expected response of an MP3 player, a Hannah Montana doll, video game or skateboard, the little girl asked for a blanket. All she wanted for Christmas was a blanket for herself and her little sister to keep them warm while they slept, one on each end the couch. The girls were keeping warm by covering themselves up with their coats at night.
Normally such an outrage solicits an angry response from me. Anger at the policy, politicians and citizens of this country that allow such tragic conditions like this to exist in our own backyard.

Instead, I was reminded of a defining moment in my life. I was in my first year of college at a small liberal arts college just south of Des Moines, Iowa. As part of my involvement with a progressive student organization on campus, I had the opportunity to help cook a meal to be served at the Catholic Worker House in Des Moines.

Five days each week the Des Moines Catholic Workers serve an evening meal to anyone shows up at their house. Most of the time they cook the meal for 30 or more people themselves, but occasionally another group provides a relief from the cooking duties. That's what we were doing that night.

In addition to serving five meals each week, the Catholic Worker House provides some laundry service, showers, a telephone for use, and keeps a few items on hand to give away to those most in need. Their space is limited though, so they have very few items on hand to give out.

After dinner that night a man in his late 50s or 60s showed up at the door. Just as one of the house residents was beginning to apologize that dinner had already been served, he waived is hand to indicate that was not why he had come. He wanted to know if they had any blankets.

It was about this time of year -- in the fall just as the nights are beginning to turn chilly as the temperature drops nearer to frost with each passing day. Our friend at the door was very clearly homeless, and, I garnered, with only the clothes on his back.

The house resident who greeted the man disappeared into the basement saying that he would check, noting he didn't think they had much. He returned just moments later and extended an old, tattered and thin blanket, "This is all we have."

I try to give a lot of things I don't need away to Goodwill or second hand stores. But if I had had this blanket, I almost certainly would have thrown it away, concluding I would never find a home for such a worn piece of cloth.

Reaching out to accept the blanket, the look on the face of the man at the door was one of the most deeply and truly appreciative looks I have ever seen in my life. Through his weathered, creased and hard face his eyes showed a bit of simple joy. When the temperature did drop to freezing that night, he had a blanket to wrap himself in.

I didn't grow up rich, or ignorant for that matter. I knew even before this that there was poverty in the world. But the expression on that gentleman's face as he reached out for the blanket is seared forever on my mind.

The look in his eyes helped define my life since then, and I still think frequently about this nameless man who taught me a great deal in a very short time. Not only does poverty exist in this world, it is exists in your backyard and in mine, and much of it is so severe that a blanket, even a tattered one, can change a life.

You, me, our politicians and our policies created these two stories, and we can create different, new stories. To quote a great president, "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."


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