23 December 2007

My Christmas Prayer

Here it is, well past noon on Sunday, and by now I'm usually long-finished with the Baltimore Sun and deep into the New York Times, but not today. I tire of those who say there's nothing to read in the Sun and today, there's almost too much.

The Ideas section is especially rich today. If prioritizing because time is short, don't miss the Q&A with Dr. William Brody, president of Johns Hopkins University, where he defines success as "a combination of preparation and opportunity," - in other words, recognizing good fortune when it comes your way and then acting upon it. "Writers, Book Trade Face Aging of Readers" poignantly reminds that we only have but so much time to do what Dr. Brody suggests.

But today's cherry on the sundae is the Viewfinder column, guest-authored by photographer Jed Kirschbaum. The Sun has a stable full of gifted photographers, many with whom I have had the privilege to work, and Jed's talent awes me. But today it is his words that move me, as he discusses balancing the need to take pictures for the 6 December 2007 article about the homeless encampment beneath the Jones Falls Expressway, while at the same time respecting the dignity of his subjects. The published photo, so brilliant, captures a homeless man shoveling a path in the snow to his ramshackle shelter. Jed then recounts a past, cold Christmas Day, when he "saw three homeless people taking their overcoats off and handing them to one another. They put on one another's coats, which made me curious enough to ask them why. They said the only things they had to give each other were the jackets on their backs."

It matters not what holiday you celebrate (or not) this time of year to be deeply affected by that exchange of gifts. They gave each other the most valuable thing and maybe the only shelter of sorts they had. For most of us, our homes, our shelters, are our most valuable possessions. People become homeless for many reasons - loss of jobs, relationships, and minds.

My Christmas prayer might seem odd, as it is actually a Jewish one that concludes the Passover seder. But "Next year in Jerusalem" is also an all-purpose expression conveying optimism and even hope for miraculous wonders. Baltimore City will always be home to poor people, but I pray home, one day and for each and every one of us, will mean shelter beyond coats and cardboard shanties.

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