This morning, I’m feeling thankful for some practical wisdom voiced through writer Annie Lamott, author of numerous books including Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith; Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers; and Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. In 2017 she gave a TED talk entitled “12 truths I learned from life and writing” that currently has over 6.6 billion views.
Here’s a taste of her writing, from Bird by Bird:
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’ “
This metaphor is particularly strong in my heart today, as I think about and pray for individuals who are navigating what feel like insurmountable health and life challenges, and for all of us in our ongoing political and global climate, and in our city of Baltimore.
Two days ago, on Election Day, a group from Redeemer spent the morning with our partners at Turnaround Tuesday, the jobs movement of BUILD (Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development) that has placed over 1500 Baltimoreans in living wage jobs since it began its work several years ago. (See today’s BUILD section for reflections from 2 parishioners about our visit.) Many of the folks who walk through the doors of Turnaround Tuesday are returning citizens searching for employment after having been incarcerated.
After a welcome, opening prayer, and time for “pair shares” (abbreviated 1-on-1 relational meetings!), a staff member offers a “Spiritual Vitamin” (kind of like a mini-homily or reflection) followed by a teaching and some role-play, based on the theme for the day. Last Tuesday’s theme was “Decision Making” and highlighted voting as the centerpiece of our democracy. We then had time for more reflecting and sharing in small groups, before ending with a few minutes of aerobic exercise and final, closing circle.
As part of our closing circle, we acknowledged several participants who have recently completed the “Essential Skills Training” component of Turnaround Tuesday. Every individual who comes to Turnaround Tuesday must first complete this essential skills component before he or she is allowed to even start applying for jobs.
One of the individuals whom we celebrated is someone who has become familiar to many of us here in north Baltimore. His name is Dwayne, and he used to be a “regular” at the intersection of Northern Parkway and Charles Street, sitting in his wheelchair. Dwayne has been attending Turnaround Tuesday in east Baltimore, on and off for the past 6 years.
Dwayne grinned broadly as we cheered for him and his fellow Turnaround Tuesday participants this past Tuesday, on Election Day. I can only imagine the mountains they have climbed, to get to get to where they are now.
“And now, you can start applying for jobs,” Melvin Wilson, Turnaround Tuesday co-director charged them. “And keep coming back here.”
Bird by bird.
Bird by bird.