Sometimes we all need the words of others in order to get started. This past year as so many struggled to get the Dorothy Day House, Youngstown up and running; we borrowed every nut and bolt, from every author, thinker and activist we could get our hands on. Early in the year the peace and justice community in the United States lost one of its defining voices of conscience when Howard Zinn died on January 27th. Throughout our first year Howard’s name and words echoed through the house including this quote from “You can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train”: “I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it.”
As a community of novices we needed the knowledge and strength of Howard Zinn’s words. But we were to have the opportunity not just to read the words of peace & justice legends but to actually have them come walking through our doors. Staughton and Alice Lynd have become “regulars” at our Round-Tables and provided us not only with knowledge and wisdom but grace and hope and companionship as well. In our walking with the guests who have made of Dorothy Day a home away from home we have learned to listen as carefully to those who are homeless as to those who are lettered, and already in our formative years it has made all the difference.
Last year at this time as we were just beginning our second month in the house already a story was unfolding that would tell us a little more about who we were and indeed who we are called to be. Ann and her husband were among the first to come to us in November of ’09 and their story touched us deeply. They had been homeless on and off for some years and now she had just been diagnosed with cancer. While we saw them get into an apartment and reunited with family it was only a few months until Ann lost her fight with cancer and died.
We were grateful throughout Ann’s ordeal that the Dorothy Day House could be a hospitable stop along the way for her, a place of warmth and respite that offered a taste of God’s goodness and love. As we have steadied our wobbly legs and grown in our sense of mission we are most grateful for the Howards, Alices, Staughtens and Anns of the world who have played such a huge role in helping us to find our way. Of course we are just a little over a year old so we can continue to ask patience of our guests and one another.
As we anticipate the New Year we have so much to be grateful for in the old. While dining with guests and sharing their stories has become sacred and holy time that seems to be cherished by all, we have come to understand that walking with friends and safeguarding dignity is much more than a warm welcome and intentional listening. Hearkening back to the words of Howard Zinn, so long as we remain silent in the face of gross and devastating injustices we fail to consider the dignity of our guests as surely as if we ignored them upon their presentation at our doors.
This Christmas season friends were so very generous to us and as always to all those who serve the poor, and yet hardly a word was said on the news or other public forums about changing the unjust economic mechanisms that keep some in the shackles of poverty. As we focused on peace during Advent and on the violence of war, the death penalty, atomic bombs and the military and prison industrial complexes this past fall we over and over again have seen that the poor, the powerless and the outcasts are all the losers in this fight that rages to protect the status quos.
So as we say goodbye to the old year and usher in the new so very much work remains. As the words of Howard Zinn last year helped us break the silence, let us begin the new year with the words of Christopher Hedges: “Hope knows that unless we physically defy government control we are complicit in the violence of the state. All who resist keep hope alive. All who succumb to fear, despair and apathy become enemies of hope. They become in their passivity, agents of injustice.” Let us pray for a just new year, and that we might be agents of change and transformation.