Wednesday, December 24, 2014

For The Delinquents

What is the vitality and necessity
of clean water?
Ask the man who is ill, who is lifting
his lips to the cup.

Ask the forest.

Mary Oliver, Water (2009)

As we close out the Advent Season of rising anticipation and raising awareness, we peer into the barn only to find an out-of-wedlock child born in a manger (what the farm animals drink out of). Scandalous. Dirty. Humble. Poor. And then the shepherds, second-class rejects of Palestine, come scurrying in to tell strange stories. Christmas means that we find God (and "fun") with the most dysfunctional.

We continue to hear stories from the desperately poor of this watershed, from ex-cons to the undocumented. The deep pain leads to addiction and abuse, torturous cycles of despair. Lindsay called the Detroit Water & Sewerage Dept yesterday to inquire if they were sending out trucks to shut-off the water of those who could not afford to pay during Christmas week. The customer service representative confirmed that, indeed, they were continuing to turn-off water on all those "delinquent" on their accounts. How's that for a "Merry Christmas?" (above photo: the blue spray-painted "w/cut" on an abandoned home on our street)

We recently met Matthew when we dropped off 20 gallons of water at his home. He's one of the notorious "delinquents" in this city (with an outstanding bill of only $207), a 57-year-old black man with a college degree, electrician expertise and a boatload of anxiety. He lost his only son to gang violence four years ago and then he went through a nasty divorce. A few months back, his ex-wife recruited a posse to break-in and damage his home: they sledgehammered his TV, his pipes, his stove, his walls and then stole his car and thousands of dollars worth of tools. No tools, no transportation, no job. Matthew talks passionately with the volume up, arms waving like he's drowning, yet ruthlessly employing whatever courage and creativity he can muster to get back on his feet.

We thank God for the snow that will fall early tomorrow morning in Detroit and for the unexpected rain that has drenched our native California this month. Water sustains everything. Wherever it flows, Life flourishes. And so, it ought to be accessible and affordable for everyone. Yet Matthew and thousands of other Detroiters turn on their faucets, but the taps are dry.

A few years back, our friend Charles taught us that one of the best things we can do for our health is, as soon as we awake in the morning, to drink an entire glass of water. Our bodies get dehydrated through the long night. Our organs are thirsty. We continue to make this a simple habit. First thing in the morning. Even before the coffee and oatmeal. Vitality! These days, our morning routine has found deeper meaning, as we drink in solidarity with all those denied the absolute necessity of water: from the delinquents of Detroit to the drought stricken forests of California.

Drink up and let it flow. And pray for Matthew when you do it. Merry Christmas.

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