The governor declared a state of emergency for Portland. We are not prepared for the amounts of snow we have received. Today is our 8th (!) day of missed school for the year so far. Of course this is annoying to everyone, not just me. Of course there are other people who are not on salaried positions who are feeling more and more pinched with each cancelled day of income. Of course there are others who are cooped up inside with small children, tempers and nerves getting increasingly frayed. Of course, of course.
But on Instagram most of the posts in my feed are picturesque and beautiful, people trying to make the best of a very unusual Portland situation. I see people frolicking in the snow, sledding down streets, neighbors getting together to build forts. Isn't this a time of community-building? Isn't this what my world is all about? But the snow is only fun if you can afford it. And not very many people around here can.
On Tuesday we went around the corner to homework club at our old apartment complex. A few of the women came over to the office to practice some English with me while their kids played educational games and read books with tutors. My own daughter picked a book and curled up into the corner of a couch. My toddler pressed himself to my knees and stared at everyone around him. A woman from Syria sat next to me and we tried to catch up on life even though huge language barriers stood in our way. It started snowing during the hour we were inside the office, and it started to stick.
I remember being struck by her sandals that she wore. We talked about the word boot versus the word sandal. She said she didn't have any boots. I was wearing my nice thick Dansko boots I bought on sale to prepare for the midwest. I felt naked and ashamed in the midst of her clear eyed-gaze as some of the other volunteer tutors heard our conversation. "You don't have any boots! You only have sandals?" No, Yes. I wondered if she rarely left the apartment these days--if she let her husband or other people do the shopping for her. I wondered how much she minded, being so estranged from the world.
That night it snowed all night long. Nobody can get much of anywhere. My mom bought my children jackets last week so they are warm in that way but we don't have snow pants and my daughter just has a pair of knock-off Uggs. My husband owns two pairs of shoes (one for work, one for home, neither appropriate for snow). I suit my children in up in multiple layers of whatever we have lying around and send them into the backyard to play. They last for maybe 15 minutes at a time, tops. And As I toss their clothes into the dryer I think about people who had to pay $1.50 in quarters for the same luxury, to get rid of the damp that permeates everything.
We are entering a time when only those who can afford it will not feel the aftershocks of great political and cultural upheaval. The repeal of the Affordable Care Act, an increase in stop-and-frisk policies, the building of a wall--perhaps these things won't affect you. They won't necessarily affect me. But they will affect so many that I know. And in a way, that is so much worse.
I remember reading about some sort of mystical Christian person, someone who tried to keep God on their mind always. They put a penny in their shoe, I remember reading. Something to make them just the tiniest bit uncomfortable, just the tiniest bit more aware of God.
This is the ministry of my neighbors. I've got my own warm boots on but I can't fully enjoy the snow. In the back of my thoughts are my friends who live around the corner, none of whom have boots like I do. I know people that for whom life has been, and continues to be, a constant state of emergency. One more day to survive, one more badge of resilience. They are a precious gift to me. They are the penny in my shoe. They are a tiny flash of copper, causing me to wonder at what God is up to in our great, big, unequal world.