This month has been full of nourishment.
My partner Jelaine and I have gone to the farmer’s market (which is delightful in and of itself) and have been making tasty meals with uh-mazing, fresh produce. Not only are we getting the healthy benefits of putting good fuel into our bodies, but spending time making the meals with her does my heart good. We work as a team, joke around, and do something together that doesn’t involve our phones, the tv, or anybody else. It’s one of my favorite ways to spend an evening.
A few weeks ago, the non-profit I helped start had a volunteer day at White Rock Community Church – we helped make and serve meals to those in need, and it renewed my faith in humanity. Some of the clients at the meal program are living with HIV, others benefit from having a hot and healthy meal, and others are members of the church who come and donate and enjoy a meal and fellowship. Straight-up luuuuv.
It fed my soul to be around a group of sincerely-good people who do kind things – it’s nice to see people using their strengths to do something in service of their belief system. I’ve been down on religion in the past few years, so it was nice to see the White Rock group being genuine people who are trying to live in the way Jesus would.
Today, I had to run out to get some headache meds (First World Problem Alert: Looking at my iPad too long gives me a headache.)
As I was walking into the corner store, a man approached me. His clothes were shabby and I instantly saw that he had duct tape holding one of his shoes together. But, what really caught my eye was his eye contact (or lack thereof). He repeatedly looked up quickly, but then would look right back down to the ground, almost as if he wanted to look me in the eyes, but didn’t feel like he should.
“Do you have any spare change, little sister?” he said, practically inaudibly.
In that instant, I ran through my options: just say, “No,” and keep rolling; dig through my Mary Poppins bag for the, oh, 57 cents that seems to always be in there; or find another solution.
“I don’t have anything, but I’ll buy you lunch. Hang on.”
He looked puzzled–I know my answer probably caught him off-guard. So often, people asking for change are ignored or dismissed without second thought–I’ve done it. Other times, they are given sympathetic looks and a few spare coins–I’ve done that too. The word “panhandler” doesn’t have positive connotation.
When I came back out, he was standing by the door.
“I’ve been craving curly fries,” I said, “Come with me to Jack-in-the-Box. I won’t take ‘No’ for an answer.”
“Okay, little sister, I’ll walk over there.”
As he set off across the gravel lot separating the Walgreens from the JITB, I got in my car and pulled around. (Can’t trust Dallas towing policy.)
He held the door for me when we went inside, and immediately went to the restroom. When he came back out, I could tell he had washed his face and hands.
“I think I’m going to have some tacos. What are you thinking?” I asked him, gesturing for us to step up to the counter. He smiled and said he’d just have the same thing I was having. The cashier gave me a funny look, but I ignored him and went forward with my order.
I’m a glutton for those dang 2-for-1 tacos, so I grabbed a few for myself and a few for him. Added on two orders of curly fries, two drinks, a breakfast sandwich, and a couple burgers to go–that seemed about right. Order 73, super. I handed him a cup, and we made our way to the drink station.
“What’s your name, little sister?” he asked.
“Heather,” I stuck my hand out.
“Cool, that’s easy to remember – my dad’s name is James.”
We shook and he made an Arnold Palmer–sweet tea, lemonade, and another splash of sweet tea on top. Looked so good that I made myself one (lemonade first, then sweet tea).
The grub was ready just as we picked a place to sit, and James insisted that he would get the tray.
James waited for me to start, but ravaged his food once he began. We had some nice small talk, nothing too heavy, but decent convo. I found out that he lost his job a few years ago and just can’t seem to find his way back. He said that he picks up odd jobs because he knows a lot of people in the neighborhood who he grew up with, and that’s how he makes a few dollars or gets meals. He said that he drove his family because he felt so bad about himself that he ruined the other good things in his life because he didn’t feel worthy of them.
We finished lunch, and I put the bag of burgers in front of James before taking the trash to the bin. He was very polite and thanked me for the food, and he shook my hand again before going to the men’s room again.
What James said about his family has stuck with me, and I can’t seem to shake it. I know that feeling very well–when self-loathing becomes so pervasive that it’s hard to believe that anyone can see anything good in me. It happened to me when I graduated college, when I lost my first job before it even began, when I couldn’t seem to figure out how to be useful.
It’s hard not to have some sort of definition or sense of purpose.
But, I’ve noticed that when I make my purpose to help someone else that my life seems a little better. Not in the fake, “Look how great I am” sort of way, but because it puts things into perspective and gives me somewhere to direct my otherwise-stagnant (or negative) energy.
It makes me wonder about the “positive” and “negative” nature of our actions. Like, if I’m moving along a game board with a goal at the end. . . I can either move myself toward or away from my goal with the choices I make and things I do.
Is it forward and backward, like a life-sized boardgame, and enough good moves help us reach the end? Is it a lateral track that wavers side to side, like the view on motorcycle games at the arcade, with every beneficial or detrimental decision? It is like a graph with a “break even” line that shows the effects that actions have on whether we’re in the red or in the black?
There are times when it feels like the “bad” is too great to overcome. I feel like that happened to James, and I can empathize with that feeling. When I lost my job, it was such a setback that I spiraled out and thought that the partner’s bad choices said something about me. It took me a long time and some serious soul-searching to find myself again, see my own good qualities, and feel able to move my life in a positive direction.
I’m not perfect by any means, and I’m still trying to figure everything out. But I started the process simply by deciding to *do* something, whether that’s to spend a Saturday helping out (instead of sitting around) or buying someone lunch.
All this makes me think about the quote attributed to Booker T. Washington:
“There are two ways of exerting one’s strength: one is pushing down, the other is pulling up.”
Now, how long do I need to row to work off those tacos?