March 23, 2012

Many weeks have passed since we mailed our  last newsletter in December. Then we were in the midst of our annual and customary preparations for Christmas: Advent Wreath and Candles taken out of storage and placed in our Sacred Heart Chapel; special meals planned and served for Christmas and New Year’s Day; decoration of the Dining Hall and the main sitting room in ‘B’ Building; the sorting and packaging of the many gifts donated for themen. (For Christmas Eve, the menu has returned to an old tradition, established some years ago by Tina P. — Spaghetti and Meatballs! This year, Peg andLoretta were assisted by Elby and me in the distribution of the men’s presents, while Bear gave each of the men one of the new pillows that had been received from Saint Leo’s in Holland Patent.) In the week prior to Christmas Eve, Father Jones and Robert K. visited our men who are currently in nursing homes in Oswego and in Syracuse, and brought to each man they visited their Christmas gifts, which included in particular some very beautiful quilts, which had been donated some time earlier.

Thanks, as always, to all who helped make possible our celebration of the Holidays.

During the months of November and December, we also customarily ‘gear up’ for the rigors of the upcoming winter in frozen, snowy Orwell. This year, however, we’ve lived through a winter that largely wasn’t. With the early arrival of warm weather — the frost is out of theground, and the ground is dry — the schedule for accomplishing some of our usual springtime outdoor cleanup has advanced by at least a few weeks, with the raking and cleanup of yards, the filling of potholes in the driveway, the collecting and haulingaway of limbs broken off of trees,and so on, already being well underway. Masses of spring flowers in front of ‘B’ Building have been in bloom for several days already, and are visible from the Chapel. Crocuses have already, for the most part, past their peak. Daffodils are currently in full bloom. Ed Westman is gardener emeritus at Unity Acres, and has been responsible, in the main, for the creation over the course of many years of this beautiful spring garden. Currently, Rick B. has taken on the task of keeping up with the tasks of weeding, separating, pruning, transplanting, etc. Last fall, Rick identified a viable sapling oak tree in the former cattle enclosure just north of the Star Building, and transplanted to an open location in the lawn just east of the Infirmary (now known as ‘C’ Building). This was to fulfill Bob Belge’s idea back in 2007 that we should plant an oak tree as a living memorial to Larry Oakes — our stalwart yardand maintenance man — who died suddenly in February 2007.

Despite relatively easy weather, the winter months are often difficult one for the  men and the staff, as we struggle to cope with illhealth, the everpresent temptations of alcohol and drugs, continual anxiety over a malfunctioning boiler and our superannuated potable water service, exhaustion from overwork, and finally the ‘cabinfever’ that sets in with shorter, colder days. At such moments, the aims and principles and commitments, the means and the ends,of Unity Acres seem to beat cross purposes: hospitality, welcome and openness against community, safety and security. Upon his first admission to Unity Acres, each new resident is asked to agree to abide by a few rules — such as no fighting, no drinking, no stealing, and so on — that constitute what we might call ‘community norms’.

These basic community norms, which have been developed and refined over the years, in order to help preserve our mission in the face of ongoing change over the years, are in place to assure that UnityAcres remains a safe and peaceful community for our residents. New residents to Unity Acres frequently contact us when they are in need of shelter, or safer and more secure shelter than what they can currently access, or they need ‘to get away’from alcohol, drugs, or other negative circumstances present in their current situation. When we learn that one of the men is in violation of the rules at Unity Acres, we feel obliged to allow the consequences of such violation: namely, that one who has been drinking or fighting, who has been creating dissension or endangering the basic safety of others, the one who has been putting in peril the basic peace and harmony of the community, must leave, if only for a relatively short period of sixty days. During the winter months, especially, temptations of alcohol or drugs, and tensions among the men seem to be at their greatest.This year has been no exception, and we have had to send a few men away from Unity Acres during the last several weeks and months.

The competing needs of the men — food, clothing, shelter for those otherwise homeless versussecurity, sobriety and harmony —are at such moments poised the one against the other in acute tension. There are always uncertainties and regrets in these instances: perhaps we are making a mistake in sending someone away; perhaps the person concerned might have responded positively to closer attention and greater concern, more compassion, more dialogue. Or perhaps we have allowed a negative situation to drag on far too long in the naive hope that everything will turn out all right in the end. Either way,in these circumstances, we are rending hearts, not garments (Joel 2, 13).