By Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades
It started with a wagon of summer goodness and turned into two-wheeled goodness.
At the Portland Farmer’s Market last Saturday a friend and I walked past a young family with a little square wagon full of fresh strawberries, blueberries, lettuce, tomatoes and peppers. Images are powerful things and I was immediately struck by how much goodness was packed into that small wagon. I doubled back and asked the family, “Any chance I could take a picture of your farmer’s market goodies?” The family happily obliged and I moved on.
But later that day I did something unusual. I stopped numerous times during a bike ride to take pictures of simple goodness. This is unusual because once I get on my bike I rarely stop. I enjoy the rhythm of my legs moving and the wind blowing across my body so much that I have been known to ride right past the perfect picture moment. I hate stopping for anything on my bike.
But this day was different. I had to stop. I had to capture some of the simple goodness that I encountered on my two-wheeled adventure through Portland.
Last week I wrote about what we do “When it is Friggin’ HARD.” It seemed to strike a chord for many as the hits on my blog suddenly jumped by 400%. By Saturday my body and soul demanded that I somehow see or insert some goodness into my day. The little wagon full of produce started it and the theme carried its way through the day.
Below are just a few of the pictures that I took along my urban two-wheeled adventure. Most of the pictures were simple still shots. But the shot of the orange skeleton at the homeless encampment has a deeper story. I rode past the skeleton and immediately wanted to snap a shot of it. But I also didn’t want to invade the privacy of those who were encamped here. While it was on public property it was also home for the two shirtless men who were seated there. I was struck by the small simple gestures that they had made to turn their little grassy from a homeless camp into a home.
I rode back and pulled up close to the skeleton. “Any chance I could give you five dollars to take a picture of this skeleton?” “Sure thing,” the younger man said, “Go ahead.” He didn’t seem to care about the five dollars. I repeated, “Here, I am glad to pay you for letting me take the picture.” The man sauntered over and accepted the bill with a quick but authentic nod of thanks.
It was clear that he didn’t expect the payment. But I needed it. I needed to feel that I was putting some kindness and generosity into the world. So much of my time has been focused on responding to crisis, fighting the urge to step into the public square with an “eye for an eye” type of engagement, and grieving over the loss of civility in our culture. I needed to do something small, something kind, something generous, just to restore my own faith in myself.
It was interesting after this encounter that I rode by at least another fifty homeless camps. While many of them were trashy and painful to witness I saw many where attempts were made to create some goodness, even a home, on a few square feet of dirt. One tent had a large American flag neatly draped over the entrance like a curtain. Another set of three camps were spotless with a trashcan nearby and three chairs sitting out front as if they were front porches. My favorite was the camp where a young man was grilling fresh tomatoes outside his tent and behind him was a pot of flowers. Not all that different from the decks that many of us have with a propane grill and potted flowers on the railing.
Yes, this is a hard time. But if we stop for moment and notice, we will see goodness. It hasn’t completely gone away.
Take the 2-wheeled goodness tour with me: