“What happens when we combine rather than collide?”
Tired, empty, hating what I carry
But afraid to lay it down, stingy,
Angry, doing violence to others
By the sheer freight of my gloom
Halfway home, wanting to stop, to quit
But keeping going mostly out of spite.
– from “Charity” by Tracy K. Smith
Her thoughts on “the cost of compassion” were what first grabbed me and pulled me into the work of the Pulitzer Prize-winning U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith. Equity, justice, hope, and humanity—and the forces that work for and against them—are at the core of her work, just like they’re at the core of the work of all members of HDC.
Ms. Smith compels me to think deeply about how I process today’s starkly divergent perspectives about society’s failure to grant everyone housing security. Poems like “Charity” remind me that any discomfort I’m experiencing from these intense and polarizing tensions still pales in comparison to the pain endured by those living each day on the periphery.
I do wonder some days if we can let go of our certainties just long enough to agree to seek common ground. And then just long enough to respectfully hold opposing perspectives. And then just long enough to discover what might happen when we combine rather than collide.
Years ago when I worked in global development, colleagues shared “Two Ears of Corn” by Roland Bunch. One line jumped out and has stayed with me since: “the problem with charity is that you need a recipient.”
Ms. Smith’s “Charity” recalls that quote. It reminds me that doing this work well means rising above ourselves to get to a place of surrender and receptiveness. A place where we understand that it’s not really about us. Where we admit we don’t come with the answers and that we need to be quiet and learn from the people we’re seeking to serve (and, yes, from those we disagree with).
HDC’s annual celebration is always about standing in awe of the power this movement derives from its incredible diversity of life experiences and perspectives. Our 2019 celebration is on April 23, and Tracy K. Smith will be right there with us. Reserve your seat now, and feel free to include any others in your orbit who could use a boost of joy and optimism.