A New Home, the Kindness of Strangers

Monday Morning Musings:

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

–Blanche,  A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

“Thank you, Mr. Rochester, for your great kindness. I am strangely glad to get back again to you: and wherever you are is my home—my only home.”

–Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

 

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After he had served his country,

had been a stranger in more than one strange land,

and was home, if not settled,

he joined a community of strangers

who became friends.

Theater brought the couple together,

in A Streetcar Named Desire,

they sparred with words and movement

(a subtext created)

my daughter said “He’s nothing like Stanley,”

reassuring me,

and she,

my practical dreamer, is nothing like Blanche,

the magic of theater,

bringing something of oneself in playing another,

finding empathy for strangers,

a valuable skill, I’d say.

Perhaps a community brought them together,

these two,

so different,

so similar,

they married,

the English teacher bride with her Jane Eyre message,

“Reader, I married him.”

Every year she meets new students,

strangers, whom she will guide.

The groom, studying to become a nurse,

will care for strangers, too.

And through the kindness of strangers,

they now have a house.

Home is where the heart is,

so the old proverb goes,

but it’s certainly pleasant to have four sturdy walls

and a roof—

with skylights.

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Months ago, the process began,

 I saw something online,

I entered to win a house.

Really? we laughed a bit–

because who wins the lottery?

But they did.

The kindness of strangers,

Operation Homefront,

gave this veteran and his wife a rare opportunity,

a home of their own.

 

They waited,

spring turned to summer, fall,

in winter, they finally saw their new home.

a magical day–

after all, we stood without coats in January

when a few days before snow lay on the ground.

the sun was shining,

a gentle breeze lifted and tangle the flag,

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the veteran lifted his bride

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It brought back memories–

when my husband and I bought our house,

I was pregnant with her sister,

our first child,

the house was dirty and needed work before we could move in,

old, musty carpets pulled out, floors refinished, and walls painted,

we relied, not on strangers, but on friends

who helped us with the tasks

(laboring before I labored)

Their house was renovated by strangers,

a little dream house with a yard for their dog,

 

 

sunny windows for their cat,

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a room for friends to stay in,

space to dream,

and a chocolate cake in the refrigerator.

 

We celebrated that night,

pizza and wine,

the servers, astounded by our tale,

thanked him for his service,

we ordered dessert–

it was a celebration,

and yes, that sopapilla cheesecake

(with butter rum sauce)

was delicious.

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It snowed once again,

briefly, white flakes touched the ground and melted,

then the sun returned for moving day,

a long day of packing, moving, unloading trucks and cars–

and doing it again,

family this time, not strangers.

 

We celebrated again

this time with delicious Pakistani food

from a newly discovered restaurant

in their new neighborhood

where the owner, a stranger,

gave them extra naan.

We ate in the kitchen

on paper plates

drank wine from plastic cups,

boxes still to be unpacked,

but they were home,

settled,

and their cat finally came out from hiding to explore,

and settled down in front of the fire.

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That’s the way life goes

days of sun and days of cold,

but they will be snug in their new home,

a dream house,

a house filled with dreams,

with a fire in their fireplace,

from their bed, they’ll watch the moon,

and maybe even hear it hum a lullaby

as the clouds go dancing by,

 

they’ll sleep and dream sweet dreams

and they will be strangely glad

to be home.

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Photo credit: Sheryl C. Smith, 2017

 

Here is a brief news segment about Sheryl and Eric on the day they received the key to their new home.

And an article

Eric and Sheryl received their house through Operation Homefront, Homes on the Homefront

We ate pizza at Holy Tomato

And delicious Pakistani food at Mera Khana

 

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead–And So Are Many Others: Memorial Day

Monday Morning Musings

“Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time ago”

–Pete Seeger, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”

(For a history of the song, see this article.)

Today is Memorial Day. In the US, this is a holiday that pays tribute to the millions of service men and women who have died in the nation’s wars. (For details see the Congressional Research Services, American War and Military Operations Casualties: List and Statistics and Department of Veterans Affairs, “America’s Wars,”).

The history of Memorial Day is disputed. It was first known as “Decoration Day,” a day to decorate the graves of Civil War soldiers and mourn their loss. Most histories give former US Civil War General John A. Logan the credit for declaring May 30, 1868 Decoration Day. The date was chosen deliberately because no battle was fought on that date. It is now the last Monday in May. Michael W. Twitty’s insightful Guardian article, however, argues that “the first people who used ritual to honor this country’s war dead were the formerly enslaved black community of Charleston, South Carolina in May 1865 – with a tribute to the fallen dead and to the gift of freedom.” This is a fascinating brief article that explores West African mourning customs that continued in the traditions of the Gullah people of Charleston.

The Library of Congress blog has Memorial Day images from various eras, as Decoration Day became Memorial Day.

Yesterday my husband and I attended a performance of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead . (Wilma Theater in Philadelphia.) The play is an absurdist piece that owes much to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. It is both funny and tragic. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two minor characters in Hamlet. Imagine an episode of Star Trek from the viewpoint of two “Red Shirts,” the characters who appear in an episode and always die, most of the time without realizing what is going on or that they were merely cogs to Stoppard says, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the most expendable people of all time. Their very facelessness makes them dramatic; the fact that they die without ever really understanding why they lived makes them somehow cosmic.” They are so faceless and ordinary, that it is a running joke throughout the play that no one knows which is Guildenstern and which is Rosencrantz–even they get confused. Guildenstern (I think) says in his final moment, “There must have been a moment, at the beginning, when we could have said—no. But somehow we missed it.”

Although it was a coincidence that we saw this play on Memorial Day weekend, this idea of ordinary citizens caught up in events beyond their control is at the heart of every war ever. Was there a moment that they, or someone, could have said, “no?”

Although I want to honor the men and women who have served the country, I do not want to glorify war. In any war, good people—and bad people–on both sides die. It seems to me the best way to honor those who have fought for freedom is to honor that freedom by learning about history, voting, and working for equality. After the American Revolution, when it became clear that the Articles of Confederation were ineffective, representatives from the states met and hammered out what became the US Constitution. A Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments, was added to enumerate explicitly such freedoms as freedom of speech and religion, the right to a speedy trial, the right to trial by a jury, and prohibitions against quartering of soldiers in private homes in times of peace, against unlawful search and seizures, and against being compelled to testify against oneself. Over time, many more amendments have been added to clarify law, begin and end practices (that whole Prohibition debacle), and attempt to right injustice and bring equality (the abolition of slavery, the right of black men to vote, the right of women to vote). The loss of lives on a battlefield and the wounds of body and soul do not mean anything, if people do not continue to work for justice and equality in peacetime.

I know it is not appropriate to say “Happy Memorial Day,” especially to a veteran. There is nothing happy about it. At the same time, I do not think it’s wrong to celebrate life on this day, whether it’s getting together with family, going to the beach, or seeing a play. Perhaps I–or you–might pause to think, “Some people died to protect our freedom to do these things.” Maybe someday there will be peace on earth; maybe someday the Star Trek red shirts will not die. Maybe someone–maybe everyone–will just say no, and war will become ancient history that children will learn about in school. I can dream.

After theater wine and cheese.

After theater wine and cheese, Tria Cafe, Philadelphia.