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Moving Forward With the Impossible

When I was in my twenties and living in NYC, I volunteered at a Catholic Worker house on the Lower East Side. The Workers at Mary House lived with the poorest of the poor, providing food, shelter, health care, and other forms of direct aid, while also working for economic justice.

One of those Workers was Kassie Temple. A brilliant writer with a Ph.D., she could have had a comfortable academic career. Instead, she devoted her life to doing what she could to keep hungry and homeless people from starving or dying of exposure to the elements.

I had never seen poverty of the sort I saw at Mary House. I was overwhelmed by the numbers of people who came through the breadline every day bearing the marks of deep suffering. And every time I returned, a new tidal wave of misery had washed over the place.

One day I asked Kassie the question that had been vexing me: “How do you keep doing this hard, heart-wrenching work when you know you’ll wake up tomorrow to problems that are as bad or worse than the ones you’re dealing with today?”

I’ve never forgotten Kassie’s answer:

What you need to understand is this — just because something’s impossible doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it!

I’m still trying to live into words I heard 50 years ago. Please take a moment to reflect on those words and ask yourself the two questions I ask myself: Where we would be if the Kassie Temples of this world hadn’t taken on the impossible time and time again? What task is calling to you — at home, at work, in the larger world — that you need to embrace even though it’s impossible?

P.S. This woodcut, “Christ of the Breadlines,” is by the Quaker artist Fritz Eichenberg, who created it for The Catholic Worker. When I hear idolatrous blather about the “Christ” who wants us to go to war, or arm ourselves in self-defense, or achieve personal wealth with no regard for others, or stand in judgment of those who don’t share “our” beliefs, I look at this image again. In the way only art can do, it speaks the truth…

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