A shovel, not an ice pick.

Years ago, after months of lurking, I finally posted in a Facebook group.

It was one of those neighborhood groups where people would comment on various events, everything from barbeques to break-ins. Fear and aggravation dominated the page. News of car windows being smashed and lamentations about the decaying of the neighborhood got the most responses and I consumed all of them.

I always felt uneasy when some of the responses to reported violence seemed to dehumanize the accused, and even further, the neighborhood in general. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not endorsing violence nor do I think anyone should have to experience fear and I understand we all want to protect ourselves and our property. The confounding and concerning thing was that most of the comments were by people who had never experienced the crime being described, yet their responses would make one think they had, were and will.

Before eventually leaving the group, one winter when the snow fell freely and often, I decided to create a post offering my snow removal services. I said I’d shovel for free for the elderly or those simply unable to do so and for a fee for anyone else.

This post was met with absolute support and an outpouring of likes.

The next two days consisted of trudging around the city with my shovel, meeting people, clearing blocks and steps of businesses and homes. I was even invited into living rooms and offered hot coffee – a welcomed respite from the cold.

Often times I encountered an icy walkway that remained dangerous, even after the few inches of snow were removed. Even the edges of the shovel weren’t enough to break some of the ice. Sometimes I would have to walk away defeated because after all, I had a shovel, not an ice pick.

I did what I could, and both of those nights I remember feeling really good about my contribution. There was a need, and I was able to be of service and provide a temporary solution.

What I didn’t do was solve any of the bigger issues facing Baltimore city, affordable housing, racial injustices, or the disparity between educational performances in our public schools compared to those in many parts of the county.

I didn’t offer to do that, nor was I expected to do so. These are issues, icebergs that are easier avoided than faced.

Ever since that experience, every time there’s a snow day – I’m out there with my shovel. Today I cleaned off some ramps, steps, and walkways. One house I’ve cleared the past few times belongs to a woman who came to the door to thank me and told me she had the flu. I told her to rest up and went about my work. Before finishing, I encountered an icy patch and found myself again, in need of an ice pick. Roughly ten minutes later, the ice relented and the steps were deemed safe and walkable.

On my way home, all I could think about was what I had done and more importantly, what I hadn’t.

Sure, shoveling is nice, necessary and good. It was a positive way to spend a few hours and it surely helped some people in the community, but what about the ice?

This reflection has reminded me to not diminish the importance of service and acts of kindness, but to make sure that they are done properly and for the right reasons. Intentionality and execution matter. I need to be aware when a shovel is a start and is certainly better than sitting back and lurking, but it simply isn’t enough. There needs to be a conversion of the heart, enough to motivate me to spend some extra time learning and taking action concerning those icebergs and at the very least, to remember to pick up an ice pick before heading out the door.

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