Chapter 12

An epic nonviolent yarn

Cass and MK sat on the thin tan carpet in the Fellowship Room of the Colorado Springs Unitarian Church, packing bags with food: four cans of formula, four tins of tuna fish, raisins, crackers. Maria had driven them down to town at high speed (“this is fun, like driving in Africa but with snow,” MK had said, as they drifted one highway bend) but now she stood patiently at the counter, talking with a tall, thin man who’d come in moments before.

“My baby doesn’t like formula. My baby likes tuna fish. Could I trade that formula for more tuna do you think?” he said.

“How old is your baby?” Maria asked.

“Um, four?” he said.

“Months or years?”

“Um, months?”

“Girls, could we have some more tuna fish over here please,” she said. When he left, MK said “what kind of baby eats tuna fish?”

“The kind he doesn’t have,” said Maria. “This is a family food pantry, but an awful lot of the people who need help in this town are single men. He probably doesn’t like tuna fish that much either, but I imagine it’s easier to trade for beer at that little store we passed, two blocks down on the right.”

“Should we be helping people get beer?” said Cass. “And should we be handing out food anyhow? I mean, I like doing it, that’s why I asked to come. But isn’t SGI’s whole thing ‘changing the system?’ Like, so no one has to ask for food.”

“Yes,” said Maria. “We should.”

A young woman with two small children came in the door, looking hesitant. “Hello hon,” said Maria. “What are the names of those cute kids?” “Gloria and Flora,” said the woman.

“I’m Gloria. I’m four,” said the older one proudly. “My sister is one.” “Ah,” said Maria. “You’re starting school next year?”

“Kindergarten,” she said. “But I already know my colors.”

“So what’s your favorite color?”

“Green!” said Gloria.

“That’s mine too,” said MK.

“These are Cass and MK,” said Maria. “They’re new in town here, and they might need a friend. Maybe they could come to your house sometime.”

“Could they, Mom?” the girl asked.

“Maybe,” said their mother. “But”

“But today you need food,” said Maria. “Which is why we’re here. MK, there’s a couple of bags of gummy worms in my pocketbook, could you find them please? Cass, we’ll need some extra tuna.”

Before too long the family was on the way out the door—the stroller was filled with bags, and Flora was walking hand in hand with her sister. They’d gotten the woman’s name—Delmy—and her cellphone number, and Cass and MK had promised to call.

“That’s why,” said Maria, once the door had swung shut. “Because we need to change the system that leaves people poor, but who knows if we can? And we’re definitely not changing it before Gloria gets to second grade, by which time she’ll either want to spend the rest of her life reading books, or she won’t, which is why I hope you’ll go by most weeks; you can take my car. As for beer, if I was that guy I’d drink beer too, and a lot of it.”

“Can we ask you something else,” MK said suddenly, tossing Cass a look.

“Let me guess: about Matti,” said Maria.

“How’d you know,” said MK, stunned.

“I’m a nun, more or less, but that doesn’t mean I’m blind or deaf or even particularly stupid,” said Maria. “And I’ve been thinking a lot about him myself, though for slightly different reasons. Yes, he’s cute, and yes he’s smart. Smart enough that he knows he’s smart, not smart enough to have figured out that smart is only a little bit of it. Smart people usually want to go it alone. Glory, money. If they’re very lucky they wise up eventually. Generally, not-quite-so-smart people are a better bet. Like you two. Smart enough.”

“Do you really think he’ll tell about the school,” said Cass.

“I’m not certain,” said Maria. “Not for awhile, would be my guess. I don’t think anyone would listen to him at the moment. He’s smart, but he’s a kid.”

“Would it matter if he did?” said MK. “I mean, we’re just a school.”

“Good question,” said Maria. “As I told Cass once, I don’t really know the answer. On the one hand, we’re just a school, as you say. All we really do is add 50 new people to the fight every year, with some minimal skills. If someone shut us down it’s not like there wouldn’t be plenty of people fighting all over the world—it probably wouldn’t even be noticed. But I think we’re coming into a moment when the world is going to need what we know. We have a dozen faculty, and we have the archives of all the peaceful resistance there’s ever been, and we have Professor Vukovic who has that archive catalogued in his brain. Together it all adds up. Last century was about inventing nonviolent action—but mostly people still fought with guns. This century the fights are going to be different, bigger, harder to understand. So maybe we’re needed. I think we are, some days anyway.”

The door swung open, and a mother entered with a small boy in a dirty snow jacket. Maria nodded at the girls, and headed for the back room.

“Hello there. What’s your name?” Cass asked the boy. “Say your name, Darren,” the mother said.

“Darren,” said the boy.

“My check didn’t come,” said his mother.