It’s 13 Degrees in Milwaukee

One of my father’s sayings was “you don’t have to say everything you know.”

I know he said it to me more than once but now I’m wondering why. Certainly, for a long while, well, all the time I was growing up, he didn’t think I knew very much. That changed a bit the day I found him sitting on my back porch reading my dissertation while the rest of us got ready for my graduation ceremony.

“You wrote this?” he said.

“Yes, Dad, I wrote that.”

“Pretty impressive.”

It was so alarming that he’d said such a thing, I can still remember what he was wearing – a white dress shirt with a tie and no suit coat, his left leg crossed over his right, a pencil in his right hand as if he’d thought he’d make comments on my work. It was probably the only time he thought it was okay to say everything I knew.

My dad’s saying, “you don’t have to say everything you know” has had staying power all these many years. I’ve morphed it into “you don’t have to say everything you think.” This latter version is stitched on a pretend t-shirt that I wear nearly every day.

Today’s challenge is not saying everything I think about it being 13 degrees tonight and there being no warming rooms open in Milwaukee for homeless people.

I thought about saying, hey, it’s winter in Wisconsin, why are we waiting until December 1st to officially open the warming rooms and bring people inside? Or, hey, I know everyone is doing the best job they can for homeless people and my heart goes out to you, but can’t we figure out how to open an emergency warming room when freakish weather happens? Or better yet, do you know there are at least 164 people living outside right now, forty of them women, twelve of them over sixty?

Then, I think, is saying something like this helpful? Will saying something make the night less cold? Will it support a warming room planning process months in the making? Will it bolster and support the good people who’ve been trying to figure out places for vulnerable people to stay during the winter? Or will it make people who’ve tried their hardest believe that they’ve failed?

This afternoon, on my way home from the downtown library, I passed a park where there were several tents clustered in one corner – an encampment of homeless folks. I’m really glad for those tents, I thought, grateful that at least some of them were tents that my beloved group, Street Angels, gave to people. The people in them will still be cold, but they’ll be protected from the wind, which is fierce today, 20 miles per hour. The wind made me shrink into myself and keep my mittened hands in my pockets on my block walk to and from the library. I wondered if they had matches, wondered what would happen if they started a fire to keep warm, but I kept driving. I drove home with my books from the library.

I prayed for those folks in the tents and the others without to get through the night. There was no thinking or knowing involved.

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