A spoonful of kindness - Madonna Magazine

A spoonful of kindness

Michael McGirr 25 November 2020

It’s an ill wind that blows no good at all. The challenges that came this year with Covid-19 will live in our memories for a long time. In Melbourne, the lockdown seemed to go on for months because, well, it did go on for months.

For those of us with teenage children studying at home and desperate to meet their friends or play sport, there were some puzzles. Yet we enjoyed eating together every night, praying during grace for the lonely, the jobless, the sick and their carers. We had some great discussions as we ate. We weren’t rushing off to meetings about meetings and, instead, became a family of tea connoisseurs. My wife, Jenny, and I joined a daily prayer group with some wonderful people based in London. We might not have done that otherwise. Time is a gift. We are good at robbing ourselves of it.

Invisible community

The thing that surprised me most was the appearance of what you might call invisible community in our neighbourhood. For a couple of years, we had had a street library at the front of our house. Perhaps you have seen these elsewhere. They come in all shapes and sizes. I have seen one made out of an old fridge and others created out of discarded cupboards. The idea is that passers-by can take books or leave them, just as they wish. There is no need to return what they borrow. Nor is there any need to leave books before you become eligible to take them. Ours was made by a friend called Tom and it fits perfectly on our front fence near where our cat, not much of a reader, likes to watch the passing parade.

I was reluctant at first. Some people have never learned how to share. It was sad to see bike sharing schemes in our city discontinued because so many users had abused them. Loads of bikes were found in the river and bay. Yet I love sharing the joy of reading and decided to press ahead.

It took off slowly. This changed radically during the months of winter and spring when we were not allowed out of our homes for more than an hour a day. Nor were we allowed to travel more than 5km.

The public library did a brilliant job trying to help readers, but it was restricted. Bookshops were closed. As a result, the turnover at our little library skyrocketed. Adults left books about parenting. Others left memoirs, sometimes self-published, of people who had suffered in their countries of origin and fled to Australia. Young people left football cards for those who might want them. We were amused by the number of overseas travel guides that were donated as well. It was great getting to know the locals, often without even seeing them, through their choice of reading. Sometimes they left notes in books, especially novels, saying why they had touched the reader.

One day, a woman we didn’t know came to the gate and called out. She lived in the next street and had brought some cakes for us to share.

‘I simply would not have got through the lockdown without your library’, she said. ‘It has been my lifeline.’

The cakes were delicious but her appreciation even better.

Chalk paintings

I also enjoyed the colourful chalk paintings by young people in our area urging us all to be considerate and take care of each other. The phenomenon of Spoonville has likewise been uplifting. When the pandemic began, we were all frustrated by the sudden shortage of toilet paper. It was so strange that people were joking that there would soon be a corresponding shortage of laxatives as people would need them to ensure they used the toilet paper they were needlessly hoarding. Some people seemed to be thinking of themselves alone.

It was different when we heard that wooden spoons were in short supply. They were being bought by people who wanted to cheer us up and soon little villages of spoon people were popping up everywhere. So much creativity went into the simple task of turning the spoons into dolls and making little communities of them. They represented families and footballers, dancers and doctors. Sometimes they were an expression of appreciation for the efforts of nurses, teachers and (our surprising heroes.) all those delivery people.

Colour and joy

Within a kilometre of our home, there were at least six Spoonville townships. They created colour and joy and a sense of belonging. This is what art can do, even the work of people who would never consider themselves artists. It is also what our faith can do.

For Christians, Advent and the early weeks of Ordinary Time coincide with summer. They are a constant celebration of the way our faith builds community. We read that the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. People not person! We encounter Elizabeth, the Shepherds, the Magi, Simeon and the elderly Anna. They are all characters with the gift of welcome, people who make connections with strangers, people who open their doors to God’s possibilities. Jesus invites Nathaniel to his home. He says, ‘come and see.’

God leaves no-one in isolation. God reaches over every fence, through every door, into every heart.