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Monday, January 12, 2015

Perspectives (Reprinted from Life, Dreams & a Turtle)

This blog post first appeared on my now-defunct blog, Life, Dreams, & a Turtle. Kame (pronounced kah-may), is my Eastern box turtle, and he was a regularly featured part of my old blog.

Today, I read "His Name Was Tom", on Scary Mommy. It reminded me of this old post, and made me wish I'd gotten my "Tom"s name.

Kame's favorite time of the day is meal time. 

Once upon a time, Kame was homeless... By our standards. He lived wild, in the freedom that comes of having all of creation for a home. When I think of him... and all the others who live in the often harsh conditions of nature, I am filled with a mix of pity and envy. Freedom has dangers, but it is glorious. I live captive to all I own, and to my family and my marriage. I do not know, if I had a real choice, if my kids weren't so dependent on me at this vulnerable age, if I would choose freedom, or remain in captivity.

Last night, I took my kids to the roller rink. It was closed, even though the website had clearly stated hours. Turns out a private party had taken over the place for the evening. I drove away grumbling. I had four kids in the car and had planned on leaving them there while I went shopping for a few glorious child-free hours.

A mother is nothing without a back-up plan, so I had one of the teenagers with a smart-phone check movie times, and detoured to the theater instead. The change meant taking four kids with me to the grocery store (we had over an hour before the movie started), but I was able to drop them off and run the groceries home while they took in the show. I'd get my kid-free time after all.

Heading into the theater, I was approached by an older man. His beard was trimmed and his clothes clean, but an odor hung around him, stale and slightly sour. He approached, holding out his hands as if to prove himself unarmed, mumbling. When he drew closer, I could understand.

"Help a Vietnam vet get a chicken dinner, ma'am? I's hungry. Ain't ate for 2 days. I can get a chicken dinner over there, right behind ya, ma'am. Chicken dinner sure sounds good. I'm hungry, ma'am."

My first response... I am ashamed to admit... was fear. I didn't know what was wrong with him, what he would do. I was herding four kids into the theater, and my first thought was to defend them.

"Just a minute, hon, I've got to take my kids in to the movie," I replied, trying to control the shiver in my voice.

I hurried the kids inside, and lingered long enough to be sure they'd gone in to their show. I went back outside reluctantly, uncertain if he'd still be there, but he was, hopeful but keeping a respectful distance.

He saw me heading for my car, and called "Have a good evenin', ma'am," giving me a friendly wave.

I'm sure he's had many people simply hop in their car and drive away, ignoring his existence. For a brief moment, I considered it, but there was something in that friendly, sad little wave, that compelled me. I know what rejection feels like and I couldn't bear to inflict it upon someone who has grown so used to it he accepts it as his due.

"Wait a minute," I said, as if I'd planned all along to help him.

He came hesitantly but with a sort of repressed, shamed eagerness, still keeping his distance. He's learned this dance well. Never get too close, don't crowd people. It makes them uncomfortable. Always be ready to run. I remember, too well, living by those rules and my heart hurt for him.

I gave him the little cash I had, and a Twix bar I'd bought in a moment of weakness. Dieting has never been easy for me, and the allure of chocolate, caramel and cookies had proven too much for my weak will. When I'd stood in line at the grocery store, that Twix bar had whispered my name, alluring, calling, pulling me in like a lover to a secret tryst. Now, I handed it over without a second thought, at once ashamed that I'd been so greedy and thankful that I had something to share.

"Oh!" he exclaimed with a smile. "I like them! They're chocolatey. Thank you, ma'am."

And with that, he was gone.

I have no grand illusions that my clumsy kindness last night will make a lasting change in that man's life. I'm certain that I'm simply one more in a long line of soft hearted saps who've handed over a few dollars and supplied him with another evening's beer. I caught the sharp scent of alcohol when he stood close, and I know the statistics of alcoholism among the homeless as well as anyone. I'd like to hope he got that chicken dinner, but I have my doubts.

He did mention that his check would come "tomorrow" and he'd be able to buy food again. His running ramble seemed designed to reassure, to communicate that he's not that bad off.

"Stayin' at the motel, here," he assured me. "Check'll come tomorrow, my food stamps. Then I can eat. Money ran out though, and I ain't ate in two days. Chicken dinner sure sounds good."

Suddenly, my efforts at dieting seem... almost ridiculous. Want to be thin? Try not eating for two days. For over a month, I've been complaining bitterly over a $900 repair bill for my car. I have a car. And my family had the $900 to pay the bill. It was a bitter blow, but we managed.

On the way to the theater, I was mentally grumbling over the high-spirited hijinx of my kids and their friends. The day before yesterday, another friend's little niece was diagnosed with Leukemia. (And if you are moved to pray for this little angel, her name is Brianna.)

I'm not trying to pretend that we're lavish in our lifestyle, or that by enjoying the gifts God has graced us with- good mental and physical health, the ability to work and support ourselves, and our healthy children, that I am somehow sinning, or adding to the burden of my brother who asked for a few dollars to buy himself a chicken dinner.

The money I gave him was the last of my cash for the week, and I will have to make due with a quarter tank of gas until my next check comes. Somehow, my sacrifices seem miniscule, in the bigger picture. A Twix bar and a few dollars... they seemed so important to me, until I met him... And now, I will never forget a ragged old man whose eyes lit up, who really appreciated a candy bar and a few dollars to buy a chicken dinner... More than I did, until I gave them away.

"Oh, I like them! They're chocolatey!"

May you enjoy it in peace, my friend. You'll be in my prayers.

Rejoicing in the day,


There is a lot that happens around the world we cannot control. We cannot stop earthquakes, we cannot prevent droughts, and we cannot prevent all conflict, but when we know where the hungry, the homeless and the sick exist, then we can help.
Jan Schakowsky

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
-Matthew 25:40
New International Version (©1984)

"Let's make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him. Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us."
2 Kings 4:10

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