It’s election day and I didn’t know how to spend it.
Worrying, fretting, doom-scrolling? Thinking of all the things about this country I hate or am appalled by? Checking the headlines every fifteen minutes?
But if Tuesday is voting day, it’s also my weekly shift at Catholic Charities, an organization that creates a safety net in a society that doesn’t believe in safety nets.
So that’s what I did with my day.
Today was busy.
We just had our first snowfall in Ithaca and any time the seasons change, people realize they’re not ready for whatever brutal weather we expect ahead. This time of year, we’re helping people get warm enough for winter.
Because of Covid, Catholic Charities was closed all summer for donations and I’ve been worried that we wouldn’t have enough stock of warm things to give out, so two weeks ago, I put out a call to my neighborhood list serve hoping for a few donations. So far, we’ve gotten about 30 bags of warm clothing, blankets, hats, mittens and scarves delivered to my front porch.
Which means today’s shift started with me already feeling a huge sense of gratitude that I live among people who are willing—and able—to donate.
When I arrived at my shift, people were lined up already before we even opened and it was non-stop traffic the whole time. There was a lot of gratitude there, too, among the folks coming in. The people we see don’t take things for granted. Life has taught them not to expect much from it, which means, on the rare occasion they get what they actually need, it surprises them. They tend to appreciate those moments; whatever it is they get; and the people who help them get it.
About an hour into my shift, a young man came in. A nice, polite guy around 25, maybe, who’d been brought by his mom, who had to wait outside because they don’t share a household and that’s our new Covid rule—one household at a time. He looked like he was living rough and simply asked for a coat. It turned out (but only when I asked) that he could use a hat, too—but not if we had to search one out, he said, the way we did the coat. Yet everything warm was part of the new donations, so we had to rummage through a few bags anyhow until we found the XL coat he’d requested, so the hat wasn’t much more work. When we brought them out, he suddenly asked if we ever have anything bigger than XL, like 3X or 4X, not that he was that large but that he was looking for something like a blanket, something to wrap around himself, he said, in case he needed to sleep.
I asked if he needed a blanket or a sleeping bag—which we also have. But he said no, nothing he’d have to carry. So, in the end, he was happy enough with the coat we’d found and then the hat for which he thanked us and went outside.
When he opened door, I heard his mom say, “Now you’ll be warm!” in full relief and happiness. And as another mom, I felt her emotion; imagining how it would be, the mother of a child who—at any age—was struggling the way her child was, in this case for warmth or housing or a thousand bigger things, and not being able to help.
Yet she could bring him somewhere where he could get a coat.
Something about that whole exchange made me want to cry—for her, trying to figure out how to be there for her son; for her son, who will probably still be cold, even with the jacket; for our society, which doesn’t have any solutions for either of them; and for our country, which is going to see a lot more need like that in the months ahead.
But it was good to realize that she did what she could—and there is some power in that.
And that we, as an organization, could do something too, even if it wasn’t enough.
It also left me thinking big thoughts on my way home. Instead of spending my day thinking about elections and the games that powerful people play, I’ve spent a lot of the day thinking about gratitude.
Gratitude, a word thrown around these days like a fad concept or something to sell on Instagram. But what I mean by gratitude is this: the way you can feel better because of something someone else does.
Because my neighbors donated their clothes and warm stuff for other people.
Because a mom is happy to help her son.
Because some folks have created a safety net that people need; folks just trying to get by.
And it all happens when people think outside themselves.
So no matter what happens today in those games that powerful people play; and no matter how many other people continue to be greedy bastards, thinking only about their bigger bankrolls—there will always be people who continue to think about others. And how that sense of working for the better of others makes the world really a better place.
And that will have to soothe my soul if things don’t go the way I want in the vote.
Because there is a lot of need in our world no matter what happens today. And that need isn’t going away no matter what happens with this election.
But I hope people keep thinking about others. Keep doing things for other people.
There is goodness in that.
And for that, I am very grateful.