Category Archives: Kindness

Sphere of Absence

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Sphere of Absence by Erin Frances Baker

I exited a posh downtown law firm revolving door to accompany several high-priced litigators to lunch.  As a municipal attorney, my city was their client, and I its representative.  Hundreds of people walked every which way, moving single-mindedly toward their various destinations.  Car horns honked.  Crosswalk lights chirped.  People talked animatedly.  Buses dieseled by.  Trolley car power cables sizzled.  On the corner, in the middle of the commotion, sat a homeless woman, dirty, dressed in rags, her hair ratty.  She sat and rocked and wailed inconsolably.  No one paid her any mind.  They merely arced around her from their many directions, creating a sphere of absence around her.  I approached her, but not too close, to see her better.  I ached for her, yet feared to enter that intimidating sphere.  I marveled that she remained invisible to the bustling world around her. Still, though I saw her and felt for her, I too arced clear and moved on to my worldly business.  Below is my poem describing the encounter, entitled “Sphere of Absence.”

My daughter, Erin Frances Baker, adapted my poem for her acrylic-on-board masterpiece, changing the character of my homeless woman to the lighter, but still isolated and nearly invisible, figure of a street performer.  I hope you enjoy the poem and the painting.

SPHERE OF ABSENCE

She sat on the corner
of a bustling city street:
a surreal reminder
of an unfriendly reality;
a sad black-and-white cutout,
pasted, out of place,
into the noisy, colorful hustle
of illusory pursuits.
Mute faces ate and laughed
behind thick glass panes;
wingtips and heels stepped past
in all directions,
carving a polygonal sphere,
untouched, unvisited,
seen but ignored, unknown.
Unknowable.
Above the train-wheel grind and clatter,
the honking horns,
the crosswalk chirps,
the biting wind,
and the chatter, rose
a soft, wailing cry,
a muffled desperation,
a distracted pouring-out
of a fractured soul
into the lonely sphere of absence.

 

My book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road, has recently been published in print and for Kindle.  You can read about it here.

Grooves

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I have just learned that another friend–a lovely, talented woman–has suffered decades of control and disdain from her husband.  Is it simply human nature to be boorish?  I don’t buy it. Life need not be such a slog.  Every man, woman, and child on this planet can learn to be more kind and caring, more loving and forgiving, more outward viewing.  Sure, it takes a little effort, a little discipline.  The ultimate means of assuring our own success is to contribute to the success of those around us, not to tear them down.  What will I (and you) do today to build another up? What connection do you see between this note and my poem “Grooves” below?

GROOVES

Our two lives
have worn two grooves
in our sagging mattress,
two trenches
where we have lain
side by side
through the battles.
I would that there were
no grooves at all,
or only one.
So much that
a new, level mattress
could not erase or replace.
As moonbeams glow
on the frozen snow,
I lay and listen
to the woman
in the sunken space
next to mine.

Songbird

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Photo by Liddy Mills

My friend Elizabeth found an injured bird yesterday, a European Starling, and took it in.  Many people think of Starlings as junk birds.  I know of farmers who pay boys to kill as many as they can.  But Elizabeth took it in.  She fed it, watered it, and wrapped it in cloth.  Elizabeth named it Songbird.  She sang to Songbird, and, as she sang, Songbird fluffed its feathers and watched her.  She placed Songbird on a bed of straw, but the bird kept trying to come to her as she sang. “I held him as he took his last breath,” Elizabeth sadly recounted.  “I hope he understood that some of us humans care.”  She buried Songbird in the yard today, on the Sabbath.  “Songbird deserved a burial,” she said.  Elizabeth’s caring heart touched mine, and I wrote this poem, near midnight.

SONGBIRD

I crashed
and lay crumpled
in your townhouse yard.

You scooped me up
and sang to me
a song.

“Hello Songbird.”

You cradled me in a cloth
and stroked my feathered head.

Sing to me
          a song.

You watered me
and laid me in a bed of straw.

Sing to me
          a song.

You kept the cats
away.

Sing to me
          a song.

You cried when I died,
and you buried me
in your townhouse yard.

You sang to me
a song.

For another story about trying to save an injured bird, see Chapter 37: Of Caterpillars and Birds at my blog page Rabbit Lane: Memoir.

Picking Up Nails

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Over the years I have made a habit of picking up nails, screws, bolts, and other sharp metal bits from the streets and gutters as I walk during my lunch break.  I like to think that if I pick up this one nail, I will save someone the trouble of a punctured car tire.  I hope that, in turn, the driver is spared the cascade of negative emotions that might otherwise radiate out into his world.  None the wiser for being saved this trouble, I hope that the driver will be more inclined toward kindness and gentleness.  The pictured jar is full of the nails and screws I have picked up on my walks.  I am filling a second jar.

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As an assistant scoutmaster for a Boy Scout National Jamboree troop, both in 2013 and 2017, my Council contingent leader, Craig, gave me and the other scoutmasters a Jamboree medallion.  He challenged us to carry it in out pocket every day to remind us of the Scout Slogan: Do a Good Turn Daily.  Putting the coin in my pocket each morning starts the challenge. Feeling the coin in my pocket all day long is my constant reminder to be kind.  Retiring it at night gives me the opportunity for reflection upon my deeds and the state of my heart.  Even if it was just a smile, I have done my good turn.  I resolutely believe that a simple smile, or a picked up nail, can improve our world.  I hope you enjoy this poem.  Pick up a nail today.

I PICKED UP A NAIL

I picked up a nail
from the street I walked upon,
and changed the world:
a tire will remain inflated;
a vehicle will stay true to its course;
a curse will remain unuttered;
a hand will find restraint;
a smile will grace one’s face;
a prayer, at day’s end, will still ascend;
a heart will incline to humble gratitude;
a child will feel the gentleness of a father’s forehead kiss;
a child will hear the soft tones of a mother’s good-night wish.
I always pick up nails
from the streets I walk upon.

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Me at the 2013 Jamboree.

I Waited for You

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Some of us wait silently to be loved, wait expectantly for our needs to be met.  Others of us demand to be loved with stomping feet and a sharp tongue.  The fortunate among us have learned to express their needs in ways that the listener understands, respects, and responds.  We are all different in how we approach life and love, yet we all want and deserve love.  My hope is that, rather than waiting for love or demanding love, we will learn to seek love in healthy, positive ways.  Beyond this, my prayer is that we will first offer love and kindness to others, thus inviting love and kindness to come back to us.

This poem personalizes one seemingly ill-fated approach to finding love.  What do you think the poem’s speaker could have done differently?  Should the speaker have done anything differently?  Was the speaker’s approach unreasonable?  Consider posting your answer in the comment section below.

I WAITED FOR YOU

I waited for you:
Waited for you to come to me.
But you did not.
I waited for you
Like the crimson clouds after the tired sun drops behind the mountains.
When you came to me at last,
I had faded and gone.

I waited for you:
Waited for you to touch me.
But you did not.
I waited for you
Like a dry, dusty leaf under a charcoal sky when the soothing rain won’t fall.
When you reached for me at last,
I had withered and gone.

I waited for you:
Waited for you to smile at me.
But you did not.
I waited for you
Like a famished infant yearning to suck from her mother’s ripe, fragrant breast.
When you smiled at me at last,
I had drifted and gone.

Chapter 43: Trees

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–Boogers are sticky!–
(Hannah-3)

Dead and dying poplars stand along the ditch bank on Rabbit Lane, like sentries propped up against battles long ago lost and won.  Many branches, devoid of leaves, poke absently out and up like ten thousand fingers on stubby arms.  On the oldest, the only leaves huddle close to the trunk, near the base.  Finches and sparrows hop happily amidst the morass for some purpose unknown to me, or for no purpose.  Their nests lie hidden somewhere in dense bushes; no seeds or insects can be found in the spiky tree stubble.  But safety from cats and falcons the branches certainly provide. Continue reading

Chapter 36: Shirley and Lucille

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–Please help us to not be mean.–
(Hannah-3 to God.)

Lucille, in her 80s, still lived in the tiny clapboard shack in which she had birthed her children, surrounded by her family’s historic grain fields, next to the small brick house in which she herself had been born.  The shack’s “facilities” were to be found in a one-seater outhouse 30 feet behind the house.  One very cold morning after an even colder night, a neighbor found her sprawled on the icy ground, her body frozen.  She must have slipped or tripped returning from the outhouse, was unable to get herself up from the ground, and slowly went to sleep as the overpowering cold seeped into her warm body.  Continue reading