Those that Help Us

I’ve been stitching thread to cloth lately instead of words to paper. It’s a diversion, a distraction, in the middle of what weighs heavy. A summer dress fashioned to get my mind off the pandemic, power outages, ice storms, unemployment, isolation. . . .

On the coldest day in Denver this year, I walked into a small health food grocery to purchase a rotisserie chicken, the kind of cookery that’s been seasoned and rotated perfectly on a spit-like oven and comes out completely succulent and juicy.

Before entering the store however, in subzero temperature, I noticed a huddled figure sitting outside the doors with a thin blanket around his curved shoulders.

His face was lowered in the wind, bare knuckles clasping what warmth could be generated by holding his hands together.

What to do?

Shamefully, a discomforting panic rose up inside of me with an inclination to look away. Instead, I glanced to the young man’s face not knowing what to expect.

He smiled.

He smiled a row of missing teeth and warm eyes and said nothing.

How could he have possibly survived the night in the frigid, subzero weather? In this part of town, there aren’t many shelters. What was he doing in the burbs?

My husband and I thought about buying him a chicken but how would he eat it out there and would he be able to haul it with him should he wander? The chicken was warm, yes. But it was messy and the juices swirled around in a flimsy plastic container that was difficult to carry. We went to the deli counter and asked for a container of soup. No soup during Covid. In fact, nothing made hot. From the parking lot, we got in our car and pulled up to the curb. I got out and handed him a twenty.

That green strip of paper felt entirely lame…

We drove to McDonald’s and bought coffee and food and returned. In the meantime, another car had pulled up to help. My husband pulled up to the curb. I got out and handed him the scant breakfast we had purchased.

Not nearly enough, I knew in my heart.

But there was something radiant about that young man, something akin to holy. How he thanked me so plainly went deep into my spirit, his expression full of love. He was clad in nothing but threadbare rags, but I tell you, he was rich.

Every time we drive near that spot, I look for him. The hot hand-warmers and gloves and hat we pulled together in a plastic bag in the back seat are sadly too late. We have not seen him. I wonder if he is still alive.

From one of my favorite authors, John Steinbeck:

Perhaps the most overrated virtue in our list of shoddy virtues is that of giving. Giving builds up the ego of the giver, makes him superior and higher and larger than the receiver…It is so easy to give, so exquisitely rewarding. Receiving, on the other hand, if it is well-done, requires a fine balance of self-knowledge and kindness. It requires humility and tact and great understanding of relationships. In receiving, you cannot appear, even to yourself, better or wiser than the giver, although you must be wiser to do it well.
—John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez, Appendix “About Ed Rickets”

Yes, we passed a little money and a bit of food from our abundance, but we weren’t the givers really.
He was the giver.
And it was no noble act of receiving in which we received his gift.

The love I saw in his face fills me with emotion. I tell you again, he was rich.

Thanks for stopping by.