Friday, August 2, 2019

Red art & real shame: A lesson in humility

Yesterday I volunteered in a food bank for 3 hours.  I wanted to do more, but it involved a bit of lifting, and my face (jaw) gave out on me.  It was both a wonderful & sad experience, and I hope I can do it again when my jaw is better.

It all began when I was on the phone with “Regan”, an artist who specializes in colored glass pieces you hang on your wall. 

ME:  Regan I’ve really been on the fence between the butterscotch & fire-red backdrops.  Pretty sure I’m going with the red, I’m looking for some real pop.

HER:  Doug it’s important for me to know where you’re hanging this, can you shoot me a pic where it’s going?

ME:  Of course, here’s a pic of my dining room when I first moved in.  It’s going to the right of my dining room window, I did a little photoshopping to show you how it will look there.

HER:  A great spot!  I appreciate you taking into consideration the piece’s zen. 

ME: Hey can I put you on hold?  My call waiting is beeping.

I switch lines.  “Hello?”  “Hi Doug, it’s Liz from downstairs.  I was wondering if you’re free?  I need to pick up some food from my church, and with my cane I’m kinda one-handed…”  

Well, well well…  look who wants to be friends now.  I wrote about Liz here, she’s a woman my age who lives downstairs.  I thought we were sort of friends, until she learned I wasn’t a Trump supporter and snubbed me.  We haven’t spoken since.

I told her sorry, no can do—I was tied up at the moment.  She said she understood, and thanked me for taking her call.   I switched back over to Regan, and as she began telling me the colors she plans to incorporate into my piece, I couldn’t stop thinking how petty & vindictive I’d just been.  I asked if we could pick this up tomorrow. 

I called Liz back and told her I had some free time after all.  What’s this about helping her with food?   She explained she “shops” at a food bank once a month, her son usually helps but was ill and couldn’t come.  Er… okay, sure.

We met downstairs and walked to the church.  I asked if this was a “members only” thing, she laughed and said no, it was open to the public—provided you prove financial need.  No money was involved, it was all free.

I asked her why she was going this route, did she consider signing up for food stamps?  She said she already got gov assistance, this supplemented it.  She said “Doug, I know you’re my age and not working.  Why don’t you go back upstairs and get your financial papers, I’m sure you’d qualify too!”   I said thanks, I was sure I didn’t.  

When I asked if she had a job or something I wasn’t aware of, she said she got by on disability.  I said I was surprised she still qualified for this food bank thing.  (I assumed she was getting a couple thousand a month.)  She said “Well, I get $771.00 a month but it doesn’t go very far.”  I said “Wait, you live on that?   What about your rent?”  She said “I have a studio, so mine is only $625.00.  And my son pays my electric.  I use an antenna instead of cable, and I get a rent rebate at the end of the year, so I usually wind up with around $175.00 a month spare income. My son makes me save $75.00 of that.”   

I was about to ask how she got by on $100.00 a month when she asked what I lived on.  I said I had some savings & stocks.  She said “Oh I have stocks too!  I’ve got 200 dollars in AT&T, and almost $100.00 in GE!  What companies do you own stock in?” 

I just said a bunch of them.

When we got to the church… I’ve seen food banks on the news (and one recently in a movie), but it still didn’t prepare me for what was inside.  Aside from one tired elderly man scooting boxes of produce down a hallway, and 3-4 elderly women sitting on wooden chairs holding purple tickets, there were various ethnic families of kids and their moms inside, sitting pretty quietly.  A large bulletin board was displayed in the front of the waiting area, with “CHOOSE YOUR PROTEIN”  & “CHOOSE YOUR DAIRY”  written across with some items beneath.  Liz asked what the proteins were and was kindly told chicken parts or pulled pork.  As for dairy, you could double your allowance of them if you chose goat milk & cheese over regular cow products.  Where was I?

After Liz explained who I was, they allowed me into the back (their “market”) to help her with her bags.  These volunteers (all women) could not have been kinder.  When I asked “Do you keep all your men in the back to do the heavy lifting?”  a petite Asian woman said they only had William today (the elderly gent out front, pushing boxes of produce).  I said “After I carry these bags home for Liz, could I come back and maybe help for a couple—“  

3 women in unison said “YES”.

A few hours later, after the final family was being wheeled to the curb, I explained I should probably go too (the left side of my face was swollen & getting hotter by the minute from my TMJ).  The ladies thanked me for helping, and I thanked them for the experience.   Bonnie (the Asian woman) said “Is it okay if I hug you?”  I said sure, and another woman (Barbara) said “We fixed you up a small bag, Liz told us you live alone”.  I said omigosh no, that’s not why I came back over here.  Bonnie said “Doug… it’s okay” and pushed the bag into my arms.   A gray plastic Dollar Store bag with (green) cherry tomatoes, 2 cans of tuna, a box of macaroni & cheese, 2 dented cans of soup, some rolls & a crinkly package of coconut macaroons.  I said “Really you guys, I can afford my own stuff—give this to someone deserving” and Bonnie said “We just did.”

Dammit!  I left with that small, stale bag of dented goods, stood in the church’s vestibule and wiped my eyes.  I was feeling pretty emotional.  For a couple seconds I almost wondered if I found God… or maybe He found me.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, you've brought tears to my eyes. I'm always sad when I hear how little $$ older Americans have to live on, we have it easier here in Australia, but the foodbank women being so grateful really got to me. Aren't there others who can help and why don't they? LOVE the glass art.


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