Sunday, December 07, 2008

I work a Saturday morning shift at the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, which (its directors will proudly tell you) is the only entirely student-run homeless shelter in the US. Run by Harvard undergrads and staffed by volunteers from everywhere, it has 24 beds, a pristine collection of The New Yorkers (for late-night reading) and a wonderfully cozy feeling.

I cook breakfast, clean, and do laundry, but I also get to talk. Self-selection makes the volunteer staff full of interesting, admirable people, and fate or random chance makes the guests awareness-altering, sometimes clearly loopy, sometimes grave, sometimes no different than they probably would be if they owned a two-story clapboard in Allston.

A man told me today that he paints the calligraphy on stained-glass windows. (Many of our guests are employed.) Mistakes are expensive, but the glass is beautiful, he said. Saints, Bible stories, the Virgin. Like icons, you know? And he pulled out a little wooden block, with hinged doors, smaller than the palm of my hand. Inside it was a gold and blue image of Mary and the Christ child. Like this, I paint them like this.

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