….Have No Name

As social services director for my town, the holidays are my busiest time of year. We hold a Thanksgiving food drive, an “Adopt a Family” program where we anonymously match up client needs’ lists with willing donors and run a toy drive. I start preparing in August; prepping the forms, doing mass mailings, lining up donors, creating publicity, beating the bushes for food donations and coordinating the army of volunteers it takes to make it all happen.

Now, this is my third go around with this holiday stuff. I know what I’m doing. The Thanksgiving drive was a piece of cake. I’ve got two wonderful people who drop of fifty turkeys each year and the town’s school children, scouts and civic organizations come through with the rest. I always end up with more food than I know what to do with. The same thing for the Adopt a Family Program. Every year I have more people sign up to adopt families than I have adoptees to give them.

But the toy drive stresses me out. When I was a small boy I went to the Boys and Girls Club in my hometown. One year they had a Toys for Tots program and a little boy came in with his dad after it had ended. No toys for that kid. I’ll never forget the look on the father and the boy’s faces. It affected me so much that I went into an office, put my head down on the desk and started crying. Bob, the guy who ran the place, was so concerned he called my Dad to come and get me. I can only imagine what my father thought when he found his young son blubbering but unable to elucidate why. Now, as an adult, I know why. There is nothing quite so painful as being on the outside looking in.

So I put myself under a lot of pressure. My greatest fear is always that we won’t get enough toys. If I drop the ball, some mother or father will have to explain to their child why Santa passed them up this year. As the goodies came in I kept a running tally in my head. Is it enough? Do we have all the age groups covered? What happens if disaster strikes and the donors don’t come through?

Finally, when the toy drive ended, we opened a “store” in town hall for the parents to pick out presents for their children. On that day, as I watched my volunteers scramble to sort and tabulate all the toys, I waited anxiously for the final count. “One thousand plus toys,” my wife told me. “Over one thousand toys!” Better than the previous two years and more than enough to go around.  I remembered that small boy from years ago. This time no child would go without. No one would be on the outside looking in.

Our success was only possible because hundreds of people in my town rallied to the cause. There was no way for me to get all this stuff done myself. But why did my fellow citizens pull together? Americans are schizophrenic about poverty. There are those who believe we should move heaven and earth to help the economically disadvantaged while others think they’re just greedy, lazy people just looking for a handout. There’s a lot of elitist and misguided nobility on one side and cold “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” ideology on the other.

Our country is a titanic struggle about what kind of nation we will become. It’s coastal elites versus flyover states, rich against poor, conservative versus liberal. The resultant hysteria has gotten so bad I barely watch the news anymore.  But standing amidst all those toys, I knew this country will be all right. My townsfolk, despite their  differences, pulled together and delivered big.  Pluribus Unum. Americans might be schizo about many things, but as Winston Churchill once said, “Americans will always do the right thing — after exhausting all the alternatives.” That’s where we are now – burning through alternatives. But that night I  had a vision of  how great our country can become. Pollyanna? Grandiose? I don’t think so.

One of my favorite songs is U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name. When asked about the song’s meaning, Bono, the group’s frontman, described growing up in Ireland and how, in sectarian torn Belfast, the street you lived on you as marked you as  Catholic or Protestant – with all the attendant and sometimes lethal problems that came with such religious pigeonholing.   The song is a cry for people to be decent to one another: to look past their own rage, injury and sorrow; ignore labels and respond to each other with love.  Eventually, after many ups and downs, I think that’s where our country is headed.

But the song  has  always held deeper meaning for me. I have always thought it describes  what heaven must be like. A place where justice and mercy operate on a level we can’t grasp and where there is no more suffering and death. A place where “every tear will be wiped away.” On toy night, my town became a place where the streets had no name. People didn’t care who you were or how you got there. They saw suffering and were moved to help.  I think that’s an echo of the paradise that awaits us on the other side of Mystery.

In the end, we collected so many toys that the parents left with over ten presents per kid. And as I watched the happy moms and dads hauling away the gifts I could hear U2’s song roaring inside my head.

I wanna run, I want to hide
I wanna tear down the walls
That hold me inside.
I wanna reach out
And touch the flame
Where the streets have no name.

I wanna feel sunlight on my face.
I see the dust-cloud
Disappear without a trace.
I wanna take shelter
From the poison rain
Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name.

We’re still building and burning down love
Burning down love.
And when I go there
I go there with you
(It’s all I can do).

The city’s a flood, and our love turns to rust.
We’re beaten and blown by the wind
Trampled in dust.
I’ll show you a place
High on a desert plain
Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name.

We’re still building and burning down love
Burning down love.
And when I go there
I go there with you
(It’s all I can do).

I shouldn’t have worried about the toy drive. Love always finds a way.





This is another take on this beautiful song.

5 thoughts on “….Have No Name”

  1. Lyn says:

    Inspirational and thoughtful. Thank you.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Crying at work here. What a lovely, lovely piece. 🙂

  3. susan says:

    I too feel our country is divided and cannot watch the news on television. However, it is encouraging to read how folks come together in times of need. You are right, love does always find a way.
    Thanks for your posts, always brightens my day.

  4. Kim says:

    We currently live in an affluent area. Our luck that our landlord isn’t a greedy guy who raises the rent every year. My friends talk about how they are teaching their kids to be good citizens of the world by quarterly visits to food banks and soup kitchens to help for an hour or two. Some of these kids talk smack about the experience afterwards to their friends about how the people there are losers without ever getting why people are there. Meanwhile, we have worked hard to teach our son that giving is something one does every day. My son since he was a preschooler has looked at people and processed what they are doing before asking us for either $5 to help them or to run into the grocery store to buy $20 in groceries to give them. Empathy is an every day thing you teach through action. I’ve explained to our son again and again that we are fortunate that his Dad has a good job that pays him well enough that we have enough and that we take care of those who need our assistance. I think that gets forgotten by people these days that we are there to help others in the hope that we will be taken care of when the time comes or in the case of the religious types follow their prophets’ words about assisting others to gain admittance into a better after life.

  5. Michael says:

    This brought tears to my eyes. Keep up the great work. Thank you.

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