“We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindness there is at last one which makes the heart run over. ”
—Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
The weekend was something I held in complete dread and fear and as it approached, each day of last week bringing it closer and closer to its beginning, I grew more and more nervous of its outcome. It was the weekend of our May Midnight Run and the gut-wrenching stress of finding enough adults to help drive our 20 or so teenagers into the city, and it began on Monday of this past week, when I posted the Sign-Up list on our Facebook page, urging our kids to help in the quest for drivers.
It was Thursday when I finally found two wonderful friends who agreed to help me. Thursday. With the Run two days ahead of us, I felt the Phase Two part of the grip that overtakes me with each and every Run, over the past 27 years. Why is it that it’s so difficult to find a few adults each month to help us drive? That will be for another time, another entry. Right now, I’ll be content with a Run well done, with the insight of the day after.
Saturday began with a shoot that I had in the Bronx, an early morning dash to photograph an Opening Day of a Little League sponsored by an Hispanic not-for-profit and despite that ever-present grip in my middle (caused of course by the looming tasks I had set up for myself this weekend), the morning was lovely. It was an urban sea of kids and their parents, all excited to get their new baseball season underway. I understood so little of the Spanish that was spoken, as the introductory speeches were made, but I didn’t have to. I looked around the baseball diamond whose boundaries were trimmed with uniformed children, gloves on hands and hats on heads, and saw what could only be described as a community in love.
When the event had concluded, I raced back home, dodging the growing traffic around Yankee Stadium and shifted gears so I could prepare for the night’s Run. Ingredients for soup had to be gathered and I was worried that our chili fans wouldn’t find it anywhere as delicious as what they have come to expect from us, but our Chili Man was away and so soup it would be. I finished the preparation in time to quickly clean the house, as I had promised a friend of a friend that she could come join us on the Run. As it turned out, this young Italian woman, an au pair who recently graduated from the University of Milan, was a complete joy to share the evening with. When we discussed the details of the Run a few weeks earlier, I realized that since she was living in Westport, Connecticut, it would be imperative that she stay overnight here. She agreed. It would be a long night and the trains wouldn’t be running once the Run was over.
Laura was a wonderful volunteer, a flexible guest who fell into the hectic routine of the evening and someone who I count now as a new friend. She was deeply moved by the students she met, by the homeless she spoke with and by the evening itself. I have often seen my involvement in this outreach work as an odyssey, one very close to Alice falling down the rabbit hole. I have regretted nothing about the past twenty-seven years but I do wonder sometimes if it is a mission completely understood by those around me?
We saw Sam at our very first stop. He was with one other man; within a few minutes a couple of others joined us, but as usual with this particular stop, it was a small and intimate gathering. The kids paid close and detailed attention to the needs of those who were there, filling their bags with lunches and balled-up socks, toiletries and T-shirts. The conversation flowed and there were abounding hugs and promises made to be back next month. Sam is now 92, a year ahead of my mom, and I noticed that whenever I leave that stop, his is the last hug I return.
Our second stop was where we would often meet up with Timothy, but since his surgery, he’s been recovering in a nursing home in the East Bronx. I fully admit: I missed seeing him there. The stop was empty, the edges of the park dark and so we moved on, hoping to find others in the shadows. We traveled south for thirty blocks and once again, there was no one there.
By the evening’s end, we had helped those who braved the chilly rain that began to fall and missed those who found refuge. We cleaned up the van and returned the unused clothing and untouched bagged lunches to the storefront and said goodnight.
This morning when Laura and I sat in the kitchen to talk about her experience with our group last night, she asked the same question I’m often asked, “Why did you decide to get involved?” And, I always seem to have the same response, as I’ve never honestly seen it as complicated. “Because I can,” I told her.
And Laura, with her new eyes and perspective caught me. “I think it’s easier than that,” she said. “I think it’s simply about love.”
Silly me. It certainly is.