Monday, October 17, 2011

My Cardboard Brothers and Sisters

I've met them in many countries, these cardboard brothers and sisters of mine. We seldom spoke to each other, maybe just a nod, a universal language. Some were embarrassed by their situation, as was I, realizing that members of my human family were forced to live in dire circumstances.
In San Jose, Costa Rica, where we were attending a language school, we saw him every morning on our way to classes. He lay asleep alongside a vacant building in the main part of town. His house was very simple - a flattened cardboard box beneath him and one above, pulled like a blanket over him. His bare, swollen and scared feet tuck out beneath, and the hand of the arm that served as a pillow stuck out from the other end of the cardboard blanket. I never saw his face, but if I had it would have been the face of one whose life had become as cardboard, rejected and piled alongside a building, to one day be picked up and hauled away. And who will be there to say, as he is buried, that his life, like his cardboard home, once contained something valued by society? And who will be there to say that it is still valued by the Father of my brother?
In New York City my brother had builit a rather nice house of flattened cardboard boxes, in an abandoned lot behind an abandoned building in an abandoned part of the city. It was all of cardboard - the roof, the walls, the floor and a door. It even had two rooms. Why two rooms I do not know, except that it gives a man a feeling of pride to have a two room home.
It was not a bad house, until the rains and the cold came. Then it would begin to fall apart one piece at a time. First the roof, from the weight of the water. Then one wall, and then another, until it was a soggy mess, lying on the ground. Few would know that it was ever a house. And alongside it lay its builder, in a drunken stupor, his house and his dreams in a shamble. Few passing by would know that he, too, was something and somebody of value and use. His life had been like his cardboard house, falling apart one piece at a time, valued until no longer useful, then cast off.
In Haiti it was a small little village of cardboard houses, perched atop a craggy and isolated hill, for it was a leper village. I stumbled upon this "suburb of shame" (shame on a world that still allows this happen) as I took an early morning walk while working in Haiti for Habitat for Humanity. Here in tiny houses made of cardboard, plastic and tin lived six or eight families, members of each showing severe signs of leprosy. As long as my mind remains alert I shall always remember those dear sisters and brothers, cast aside by society as their fingers began to rot like the cardboard of their decaying houses.
I frequently take flattened cardboard boxes to the local civic recycling center, where they are baled together and made again into useful items. We receive new boxes that are stamped "Made of Recycled Materials." Is it no the task of our society to do just that to our cardboard sisters and brothers, before it is too late?

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