Friday, June 06, 2014
I wash my face with cold water –
Not for discipline,
nor the icy, awakening slap,
but to practice
to make the unwanted wanted.
— Jane Hirshfield "A Cedary Fragrance" from Given Sugar, Given Salt
I spent last night as portress at the local shelter. Three little babies in residence, all of whom woke up simultaneoulsy at 10 pm, sending their mothers — gathered wearily at the table for a late dinner — scrambling back to their rooms, and thankfully not waking the overdone two year old who had finally surrendered to sleep.
The weather was unexpectedly cool and as midnight crept around, I wished for the sleeping bag I bring in the winter to spread on the cot by the door. I pulled an extra blanket from the cupboard, and pulled the hood of my sweatshirt up.
The van came and picked up the guests at 6:25 and I did a last sweep of the common room to tidy up the coffee making gear before dashing across the parking lot to make the 6:30 am Mass, wearing what I'd slept in the night before. My companion on the night shift, who spent the night on a bed set up in one of the offices down the hall, was standing by her car running a brush through her hair. Having forgotten mine, I joked that at least one of us would be presentable.
The whole scene reminded me of the morning services in some of the Buddhist temples we stayed at in Japan, people coming from every direction at the sound of the bell. My colleague, who spent time in a Buddhist monastery, recalled that one day the abbot sighed to him in a conference, "at least you could wash your face before you come!"
I had at least washed my face, even if I was wearing what I had slept in. And much of the night was spent practicing making the unwanted, wanted.
And yes, I went to Mass in sneakers wearing slept-in clothes with bed tousled hair, smelling faintly of l'eau de baby drool and I still believe in the Real Presence. I washed my face, O Lord!
Listen to Jane Hirshfield read "A Cedary Fragrance"