Doing good doesn’t always work out the way you planned it.
You want to save the world, and you end up at an office job.
You want to help kids, and you find yourself shown up by a middle schooler who you’re supposed to be tutoring, but whose mathematics is better than yours. (You end up going to a movie instead.)
Someone asks you to do a random act of kindness. Just one day. It could be anyone, anything, at any time.
But the lady behind you on the line at Starbucks is wearing a coach bag. At the dog park, for once there’s no evidence of anything dog parents have ‘accidentally’ left behind. And the elderly man getting off the elevator looks like he is enjoying what time he’s got left to walk unsupported, even if his legs do shake a little as he goes.
Or you sign up to volunteer at a hospital.
Once a week you go there, walk in past the wheelchairs and oxygen tanks, past the families on couches eating vending machine snacks, past the updates being passed on from cell phones, past the air made up of so many people holding their breath, and the sound of past and present laughs and tears and whispers, past the doors that people have walked through once – or a hundred times.
But there’s not much good to do.
You give a blanket to a mother who’s fallen asleep by her son’s bedside. You take a message to a patient’s friend. You ask if the sibling would like some toys. You get them a cup of coffee no one drinks.
Three hours is a long time.
And then one day, you walk in, as you always do, and the nurse points to Room 301.
“Hey, can you go in there?”
“New one. Premature”
What do you want me to do?
“Just hold him.”
Three hours is just a moment.
How to Watch Someone Three Days Old
Begin with blankets
torn from a heartbeat and left for the wash
Shut out afternoon and listen
for something occasional
the scratch of a bell
there is life after all
breath on a vastness of cotton
Come in lose yourself in
the smooth mask of unmatched beginnings
but give in
to the intimacy of checking and you will miss
The slippered blue unfurling
From here it is all movement
a cocoon unravels, grows the tightened harmonies of grocery store cries
Be first without fading flannel slides like water
Let him rock on the waves of sifted air
leafed in the clovered comfort of swaying
When your arms stale, know they have years to stretch
What clings a minute?
Last in this accident of weight