It’s Monday. Yesterday, despite having recently been dragged to see both Room and Carol, Paul took me to the glory that is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The Carolina Panthers did not win the Superbowl, and I’m nursing a case of chips and Rotel cheese dip, shrimp and cocktail sauce (extra hot), buffalo chicken tenders inspired heart burn. Who knew such a combination would irritate a once cast-iron, now middle-aged stomach?
I’m also aghast that anyone thought they could make “opioid-induced constipation” into an amusing ad. I mean Dude, seriously?
So I sit eating my gentle bowl of oatmeal and reflecting on the day before all that first-world madness, wondering how to convey the quiet miracle I witnessed on Saturday.
Saturday was St. Simon & St. Jude’s turn to help feed the homeless of Columbia. I’ve written about it before, and I’ve done this sort of thing at my parish in Lewisville, Texas, many times. Always I leave the event feeling buoyant and wondering how that’s even allowed, how is it legal I get that for simply showing up and passing out hot dogs?
It’s not the serving of hot dogs, or even the ladling of chili on them that leaves me feeling elated, it’s the sincerity of all the “God bless you” and “Thank you” I hear.
And this time, something else I noticed: community. They come to the parking lot at Suggs & Kelly Law, off Taylor and Hampton in downtown-ish Columbia, and they are white and black, male and female, friends and lovers and married couples and singletons, mothers and children. Some are charming and talkative, like Keith who introduced himself to me with a gap-toothed smile and gave me a rundown of his long work history, including grave-digger. We both agreed the bones he’d moved while working for a funeral home held no danger to him, however superstitious his brother might be about it.
As they passed through the food line and I ladled Miss Monica’s heaven-scented chili and offered onions for those who cared for such, I noticed how they cared for each other; stripped bare of pretension and most of their worldly goods, these folks took time to notice if a newcomer in their midst walked off without taking a banana for later, or directed one another to the pile of donated sweaters and coats when they noticed the need.
I am not always good at community; I’m an introvert by nature, an “ambivert” by training and necessity, so I understand the ones who pass silently through the line and avoid eye-contact; there can be myriad reasons for their silence. Trying not to intrude with chili, onions, or unwanted conversation, I take no offense when they walk by without a thank you. As well as obvious health and dental issues, there is a lot of mental illness on display among the homeless, something I often wonder if the general population understands. But as I watch them interact with each other, and smile and joke with them about onions being good for them, I realize if those who are locked within themselves reaches out, one of the others will help them, in whatever why they can. And I find that incredibly inspiring.
Interstate 26 was slow as molasses on the way home, giving me plenty of time to reflect, try to put a name to what I saw happening Saturday in that parking lot. The best I have been able to come up with is graciousness. There is a grace to them, in how they treat each other and in their thank yous and God bless yous to me/us. I learn something every time I help, but honestly didn’t see that one, graciousness, coming.
Wonder what I’ll learn next time?