Skyline, Winter - 2008

By Diane Pendola

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This I know


Browsing through old computer files I was surprised to find an entry named, “Images of Christmas, 1992”. Opening it, I felt moved by what I had written 16 years ago. At that time I was providing pastoral care to women in county jail. Reading through my words I’m sadly struck by how little has changed but the names and faces and places. The streets are still mean. The homeless are increasing. The jails are more crowded. The poor are still with us. And yet… in the midst of all the suffering there is something else. There is something that shines through; something kinder, clearer, sweeter. You might call it Love. It’s hard to believe that we might even come to uncover its name– as Joy.


Images of Christmas, 1992




I`ve been watching the television–

            a humanitarian effort to feed the people of Somalia

the little children

            of Somalia




I've been stuffing Christmas stockings–

            one to represent each family member for whom

I would normally

            buy a gift.

I stuff each one with

            a gift certificate for McDonalds,

            a razor and new shoelaces,

            aloe-vera lotion and chapstick,

            kleenex, a bag of hard candy,

            warm socks and cigarettes.

These are for the adults.


And for the children,

            take out the cigarettes and the razor,

            add warm gloves and a stuffed animal.





I listen to the evening news,

to a woman from Bosnia

            say that she would kill the baby

            she carries in her womb if she could

but she is too far along,

and the man who raped her said

he was only following orders,

and he also said that he killed

six of the women after he raped them

because he was ordered to, he said

he has no regrets.




I went to the jail two days before Christmas–

ten women, ten chairs.

We lit a candle,

we turned the lights down low,

we gazed together at the flame

and closed our eyes to see

the light inside.

"Listen to your breathing," I said

"And let the breath fan the flame."

"Listen to your heart'" I said

"And let the light pulsate there."

And we were silent together

listening to the life-giving breath,

the life sustaining beat of the heart.

And then one of the women said:

“I’m pregnant. And until this moment

I was going to have an abortion.

But when I closed my eyes

all the light, all the life was coming from here,”

(and she laid the palm of her hand upon her belly).

"I'm going to have this baby," she said.

And I'm going to name her `Blaze'

for the light."




That evening on the news

a young Marine

was teaching a flock of children

to sing "jingle bells" off key.




The next day I took my stuffed stockings,

and Teresa’s homemade pumpkin pie,

to town.

Donna and Troy had a motel room for the week.

The mattress was on the floor because the bed

was so lumpy.

They grinned as they unstuffed their stockings.

They laughed.

They joked about their candy–

pretending to hide it from each other.

Donna cut the pumpkin pie with a plastic knife.

We ate it on napkins.

Pumpkin pie's her favorite–

            I guess because she doesn't need teeth to eat it.




I remember a movie,

I remember the part that made me cry–

            a poor, poor man from a slum in Calcutta,

            a man who pulled a "rickshaw"

            running through the city on bare feet.  

Anyway this man was brought unjustly into court

and fined more money than he could possibly raise,

and all his friends that were as poor as he was

emptied their pockets to pay his fine...




I asked Donna if Cheryl and her kids were still

at the other motel.

We drove over to see.

Knocked at the door

            Cheryl, in a not-so clean nightgown

            sitting cross-legged in the middle

            of an unmade bed that took up the whole room,

            told us to come in.

            A dog, three little boys, a Christmas tree,

            a man talking on the telephone

            and two kittens took up the remainder of the space.

She hardly looked at the stocking,

            her mind was not on Christmas.

And the man eyed me suspiciously.

But O those little boys–

            "look mom, I really needed this for my lips"

            as one held up the chapstick

            and "look at this, warm gloves!"

            "O wow" another murmured again and again

            as he leafed through his coupons for McDonalds

            and another held his stuffed animal to his cheek

            and closed his eyes and smiled.




I remember another movie–

"The man who broke a thousand chains"




I was leaving Mervyns parking lot–

            the store full of hurrying and buying–

and standing at the exit was a woman with a sign:

            "will work for food"

I had one more stocking left.

I parked the car and walked toward her.

I recognized her as a woman I'd seen in jail.

She remembered my name.

I didn't remember her name.

We talked. She's living down at the river bottoms.

But it’s been awful cold---below freezing. She says

If you don't have kids you can't stay at the Shelter.

And you can only sleep five days out of the month at the Mission.

I ask what kind of response she gets standing there with her sign–-

she says, once in awhile some one will give her housecleaning or yard work. Last week a guy picked her up, drove her way

out on the hiway and then offered her $20.00

for a blow job.

She turned him down. It was a long walk back.

I gave her the stocking.

Take care, I said.

God bless you, she said.

Her name,

she told me,

is Joy.



This I Know

This I know

         I know the sun rises each morning,

         even in the darkest of winter there is a dawn.

         I know that fire consumes, purges and purifies.

         I know that life emerges from the ashes.


         I know the waters are welcome on the parched land,

         softening, beckoning the greening life.

         I know the waters can flood, sweeping away all structures.

         I know that life re-builds again.


         I know the awe of earth, the mystery

         of an acorn growing into a great Oak.

         I know that all things are born, change and die.

         I know life goes on.


         I know the wind is a presence

         within, without and between.

         I know it can blow fierce as a tornado, leveling everything.

         I know it abides through every ending.


         I know

         that love is what stirs my heart,

         makes me weep,

         gives me hope,

         moves me to despair,

         is distinctly human

         and aspires to






         I know


         is the meaning

         and the depth and the life

                  when life passes.


This I know.

         Believe what you will.



©Diane Pendola, Winter 2008. You are welcome to print or make a copy in electronic form for personal use or sharing with interested persons as long as the copyright notice is not removed or altered. Please do not print it in any other publication, or sell it, by itself or as part of another work, without express written permission of the author.

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