I’m writing this with one day remaining of my vacation in Washington, DC, although you will read it after I’m home. My husband and I have dreamed of this trip for a couple of years, and we aren’t ready to wake up. The thoughts in my head are crammed so tightly that when I reach in to pull out words, I get a wad as inseparable as the curls at the nape of my neck on the third morning of a camping trip.
For five days, we’ve explored monuments and museums etched with the words and deeds of famous leaders. Each morning in the hotel, I take syrupy mouthfuls of peanut butter waffles while devouring the meticulously crafted phrases of Abraham Lincoln. The urgent passion of Martin Luther King, Jr. makes coffee unnecessary. I photographed every single quote at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial. These men and their tribes changed the future for millions, and they have me ready to revamp the world.
We visited the Library of Congress and perused Thomas Jefferson’s book collection. The shelves form the walls of an entire room at the Library of Congress. He had books on everything, in several languages. I wonder if, like me, he bought two or three for every one he read. When I die, you won’t need life insurance to bury me. You’ll make enough on Amazon selling my used paperbacks. If there’s a library in heaven, I might be able to catch up on my reading.
Exiting one grand history lesson, we headed down the street towards another. A man approached in the neon yellow vest worn by those who direct traffic around construction sites and schools. He asked if we wanted to buy a book. I’m about to publish my own book, so I’m enthusiastic about helping other authors. “Sure!” I said. I knew just the pile where this book would rest, neglected and awaiting my future burial needs.
Every would-be reader needs a Metro. It’s transport for body and mind. There is no cell signal. No Facebook. No conversation—people do NOT meet each other’s eyes. I actually read the book. The way this man put words to memories had me turning pages all day. I took the Metro; I took the bus; I sat outside at an Irish pub reading. I wanted to explore DC some more tonight, but I didn’t argue when my husband wanted to return to the hotel. It meant I could finish the book.
“A door in the kitchen seemed like our best shot, so we opened it and waded through chin-high water. In the shed, we found a sledgehammer, crowbar, axe, power drill (though we had no power), and an old twenty-four foot ladder…I felt like I was about to break an Olympic record for bangin’ a roof in…The more she hollered, the more it made me move my body. It like her cries be wild dance music instead of screams of a woman in childbirth pain…Finally we broke through to a sliver of sky the color of prison rats.”
The book is Still Standing, by Gerald Anderson, as told to Susan Orlins. Gerald was in and out of prison from the age of 15 to 37, released three weeks before Hurricane Katrina decimated his hometown of New Orleans. Prison lessons helped him take charge and help over 300 of his neighbors make it out alive. In DC, he earned money selling Street Sense, a newspaper sold by homeless people. Journalist Susan Orlins worked with him to write his story and get it released.
This month’s Mission of the Month is dedicated to the work of Street Sense and this book. Street Sense gives choices, income and people who listen to you and believe you can make a difference, even if you’re homeless. That is the key to freedom, bigger than a shirt or shoes or shower. People who listen and believe you can make a difference.