She had been sitting quietly next to me, a cantaloupe in her lap. "What does it mean, 'a cross to bear'?"
I explained. It's a heavy and unchosen burden that you must carry with you, whether you want to or not. Somehow, carrying the weight without complaint can lift you.
She nodded. "That's why I don't want a lot of stuff. When you're homeless, it's better that way." She shifted her small plastic bag of belongings. "You have a place?"
The day before, I had tried to set it on fire, leaving a cutting board atop a burner I thought was turned off. A relatively minor conflagration but a major inconvenience. I'd left the house to the remediation crew because I was supposed to lead the next morning's meditation at Peace House Community.
That night, I had asked my Facebook friends for suggestions of fire-themed poetry, thinking a fire story would be a way to introduce the topic of unexpected events in our lives and how they change us in unexpected ways.
Danny Rosen, a poet and publisher of poets, suggested "The Way It Is" by William Stafford. Not a fire poem, but an eerie choice, considering this woman's question. A cross... a thread... a fire.
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
Some people choose not to stay for the voluntary meditation that precedes the meal. They settle for a slab of bread and peanut butter, a cup of coffee, a moment of quiet or, on this Friday, they need to get out of the cold rain. Or maybe they only want a snippet of conversation, a sense of company, a moment of reassurance.
Whatever she'd come for, it was not for the discussion I was prepared to lead.
As she gathered her things and rose from her chair to depart, the cantaloupe rolled out of her arms. She turned, reached out her free hand and snatched it from the air.