Folding up a blanket. She was folding up a blanket. It’s such a normal thing to do I almost didn’t register what she was doing. I’d just done it myself a couple days earlier.
Last week I stayed several nights with my son and his love in their apartment. Adam cleared amplifiers and instruments out of his small music room to make room for an air mattress for me. On his desk, next to a happy red lamp was a “welcome Mom” note and a little painted nativity inside a gourd- a welcome gift for me. I went to the Twin Cities for a quick, unplanned get-away when a weekend retreat for the church was cancelled at the last minute. The cancellation freed up my week and gave me time to rest my world-weary soul before fall programing begins in earnest at the church.
On Friday morning I folded up the blankets Adam and Elektra gave me to use, and I put them away in their living room. I rolled up my sheets and pillow cases and pillows. Pulling the plug on the queen-sized air mattress, I was happy. It served me well enough, but it was a lot lower to the ground than I remembered it being when I used it last five years ago. As I put away my temporary bedroom I looked forward to sharing a king-sized bed at the Hampton Inn with Mike that night after he flew in for the weekend. The air mattress and pump, sheets, pillows and pillow cases all fit nicely in one big rectangular bag that I tossed into the trunk of my car before spending the day exploring the city with a cousin, also world-weary, whom I hadn’t seen in too long.
Two concerts, two art exhibits, sight-seeing, a little shopping (I had never been to IKEA before), long walks drinking in early autumn beauty, plenty of good food, time to finish a good book uninterrupted, time to repair some broken jewelry and to patch the elbows of a favorite jacket, sitting Zen meditation with Adam one morning in a beautiful Zen center (a first for me), a blazing fire pit on a beautiful evening, time alone, time with both Minneapolis offspring-sons, time to walk relaxed and hand-in-hand with Mike; it all added up to a wonderfully refreshing week.
Yesterday morning Mike and I didn’t make the bed, we just closed the door behind us and checked out of that Hampton Inn and put our bags in the trunk of my car. Instead of hopping on the freeway we took the longer, but more scenic, route through the city to wend our way to worship and later brunch with Jackson before hitting the highway for home.
Crossing town, we were stopped at a light when to my left I saw the young girl folding up a blanket. She was maybe 13 or 14. She had a long black pony tail. She and a young man were on the cement stoop in front of a business. The porch was small, maybe eight feet long and four feet wide across the front of the building. Another woman, just a little older looking, with a pock-marked face and her own long black ponytail stepped to the stop-light before waiting there for the others to join her.
The young girl was folding up a blanket. Maybe I wouldn’t even have noticed her if I hadn’t just folded up my own temporary bed two mornings earlier. I looked at them for several seconds before it registered with me, they slept on that stoop! Her blanket, folded first into thirds and then neatly rolled into a tight tube, would go with her wherever she was going to spend the day. They had no king-sized bed waiting for them at home, no temporary room for the night, not even an air mattress to soften that hard cement stoop. No cheerful red bedside lamp to read by late into the night. No window shades to draw to keep out lights from passing cars and the stares of strangers.
Our traffic light turned green and we drove away.
The girl folding her blanket went with me to worship. She was there when we prayed and when we communed. She, along with my suitcase and other bags, came home with me, too. She’s here, on my mind and in my heart. She was folding a blanket and it looked like a perfectly normal thing for her to do.
But, how can it be normal for kids to be homeless, sleeping on cement stoops and folding their blankets there the next morning for all the world, for tourists like me, to drive by and to see?
When did I see you homeless and pass you by, Jesus?
When did I see you without a bed and not offer you so much as the air-mattress packed in the trunk of my car as we drove by?
I left home for a few days because I was world-weary and I came home feeling more whole but carrying a kid with a long black ponytail folding a blanket.
We can’t continue to drive by and let that be normal, can we?