You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you. ~John Wooden
I believe that you will remember me mentioning August's deep and genuine concern for a homeless man that we often see in our town. In fact, there are a couple of these men around. Several of them own a dog or two, which is what originally drew our eye to these people in the first place (what does that say about our proclivities?) and piqued our interest in these men's lives. So many questions have been asked regarding these guys as well as deeper discussions about the bigger problems of homelessness, economic disparity, social justice, our own fears...
August's first foray into personal and audible prayer was prompted by his deep seated desire to "do something" for these folks. And as Jesus was so prone to point out regarding children, his natural inclination was to walk right into the presence of God, look up and ask Him for help.
He hasn't stopped asking.
Around Christmas time when I was in Target (whatever would I be doing there?) I noticed some packets of hand and foot warmers in the dollar bin. We had recently had a decent sized snow, along with sub-freezing temperatures and I immediately thought of how these would have been helpful when we were sledding. And then, like a laser beam, I thought of "our" homeless man. I thought of how sledding and playing in the snow were probably a lot further down on his to-do list but that keeping his hands and feet warm were right up there at the top, along with making it through the night. I cleaned out the bin.
I showed my purchase to August, whose eyes immediately lit up. Then, he leaped up to hug me. Here was something very tangible that we could "do".
No fewer than two days passed before we saw him walking. August saw him first and called out to me. "Mom, there he is! We need to give him those warmers!" But I didn't have them with us. I had followed the prompting to buy the darned things but I hadn't followed through with the most important part of the deal--getting them to our friend. I made a mental note to put them in the car so that we could give them out next time we saw him.
And I did. Put them in the car, that is.
But the next time that we saw him, we were inbetween destinations with things to do and people to see and places to go. Not this time, August. Next time.
But just this past week, on one of our weekly trips to the library, where we were able to score one of the parking spaces right next to the building, we saw him. He was right there, with his dog. We were right there, with the goods.
And the space between us suddenly seemed like a gorge, slicing deeply into the Earth, threatening my firm footing, daring me to go forward.
This was it.
This was when what we professed to be true, to be right, to be noble...needed to put on skin and walk.
This was when the lessons that I really wanted August to learn, to absorb, to burn into his soul might become
something real. Alive.
And then, as grace flowed from somewhere other than my heart, I moved. I tried not to think because thinking only complicated the matter and caused me to focus on myself rather than the task at hand. Sometimes you just have to move.
I grabbed the bag from the trunk and, with the boys, approached the man, slowly. Very slowly.
For there were words flying. Ugly words spewing from a deep well of bitterness and frustration, aimed at the only thing that he had control over--his dog. Words that, I'm sure, had been hurled at him, time and time again, by those who believed that they had control over him. "Piece of sh#t!" "Shut up, you damn fool!"
The dog recoiled, finding the only thing lower than himself...the ground. He looked up with eyes, like deep pools, reflecting the ire of his assailant while hiding a darker underside of untold horror. He acquiesed, as was his usual custom, I'm sure.
And then we were there. Amongst the sh#t and damnation, we stood.
The boys instantly went to the dog, who, in turn, was instantly drawn to them. The broken hearted became the ice breaker. An opening.
We struck up a conversation about the dog, what kind he was, etc. The usual banter that occurs when you are a dog person and you encounter someone with a dog. A bit of silence and then...
Me: "We see you walking around town..."
Him: "Yeah, I'm always walking..."
Me: "Well, this is my son August and well, he often asks me about you. He's concerned about how you're doing and all. Worries that you are cold."
The man pauses, looks at me, takes in my person and my words...searching.
Me: "And well, we got these things for you and we wanted you to have them."
I handed him the bag. He took it, still looking at me, and then at August.
Him: "Thank you. Thank you very much."
We turned to leave and then I realized that I hadn't even asked him his name.
Me: "I'm so sorry, I didn't even introduce myself. I'm Holly. What is your name?"
I haven't joined in the count for awhile.
to quote August's prayer just the other evening: "Thank you for the delicious food that I had for dinner. Thank you for this cozy bed for me to sleep in."
a husband who cares for our family in ways that are unique to him alone
daily bread while tomorrow's weather threatens
blankets on top of blankets
plants that bloom in the middle of winter
dog chewed slippers
lost friends found
the love of a couple who has just suffered an unimaginable loss
the generosity and hospitality of friends
strong coffee on a gray afternoon.