Art of Giving

red leaf

Tap, tap, tap.

It was still early in the morning when there was a soft knock on the glass patio door.

“Don’t answer, you know who it is,” Jan said without looking up from buttering her toast.

She stood at the kitchen counter in a long nightgown and slippers, while her husband sat at the table holding a steaming mug of coffee. He perused the headlines of the news, rattling the paper as he turned the pages.

Across the table, old newspapers were haphazardly spread and stacked with colorful advertisements and junk mail randomly shuffled into the mix. Salt and pepper shakers in the shape of birds were in the middle next to a plastic napkin holder with plain white paper napkins. Her husband, Dennis, reached over and gathered the papers into a messy pile to clear a space for his wife.

“Come sit down.”

He looked over the top of his glasses, unsurprised that the seat remained empty. Jan was still standing at the counter shaking cinnamon from a spice container with an aluminum head onto the buttered toast. She risked a peek out the door and then quickly looked away, reasoning that without eye contact there was nothing to stop their visitor from leaving.

Tap, tap, tap.

She felt a secret thrill, he wasn’t leaving. The hint of a smile played out on her face as she turned to her husband for another peek out the door over his shoulder.

She feigned surprise, “Oh Denny, it’s him again. What should we do?”

He laughed and the skin around his eyes crinkled like old leather, “We?” he asked.

“Don’t you mean what should you do?” he clarified with an emphasis on the word, you.

They had to play this game, their roles and the rules were both well-defined and rehearsed. He gave his wife a knowing look that was a mixture of amusement and annoyance and sipped his coffee.

“In that case, I better give him what he wants,” Jan said coyly.

She reached for the jar of peanut butter in the cabinet and pulled out another slice of bread from the breadbox. Humming to herself, she quickly slathered the bread with a thin layer and cut it into triangles, just the way she used to do.

Tap, tap, tap.

“Oh, hold on,” she said with in pretend irritation as she balanced the triangles flat on the palm of her smooth, white palm and made her way towards the door.

Sliding the door open with one hand, she knelt down with surprising flexibility for her age. She tucked her nightgown around her legs to hold it in place as she balanced on the balls of her slippered feet.

“Well, hello there,” she greeted a fat brown squirrel with shiny, black eyes.

The squirrel twitched its nose in recognition.  It chattered with excitement and held its claws out for breakfast. Jan extended her hand towards the creature. It sniffed her fingers and looked up at the woman; they locked eyes for a brief moment of connection before the squirrel grabbed a triangle and took off for the edge of the patio, still chattering as it disappeared up a tree.

Jan straightened out her legs and back as she stood, and noticed at her feet a unusual, bright red leaf carefully brought in from an ornamental tree of a far off yard.  It was left not as a payment, but as a present.  Jan left the rest of the triangles with a smile now fully fixed on her face and took the leaf, grateful for the gifts of the day.

Here today and gone tomorrow.

Bad Attitude

kings
Slowly

“Earl, come back already,” I groaned.

I slowly pulled the heavy bag of trash half-way out of the silver trash can. A clear liquid leaked from the bottom corner and dripped onto the top of my sandaled foot, landing with a splash.

“It burns,” I screamed and then realized it wasn’t burning. It was just gross. I dropped the bag back into the can to recoup and asked myself, why am I doing this? Isn’t there someone else to whom I could delegate this task?

“No, Puney,” I answered myself in a stern voice. “There is no one else and shame on you for looking for someone.  You only have to do it this one time and Earl will be back on Monday.”

I countered in a whine, “But it is so disgusting. What about that homeless-looking guy who walks up and down the street? I bet he would take it out for a buck.”

“Puney…” I said in that low throaty you-are-about-to-disappoint-me-unless-you-make-a-better-decision tone.

“Fine,” I agreed with a huff.

I pulled the bag the rest of the way out and tied it off with a knot. Gnats hovered around the bag and flew past my face as I hefted the still-dripping bag and carried it outside with a scowl.

If anyone would have approached me, it would have gone something like this.

“Hey lady, you got any change?”

I growl and bare suspiciously fang-like eye teeth and sum up the petitioner.

An innocent enough man in a tank top with jean shorts, floppy tennis shoes and nappy hair unaware of the trap into which he just walked.

“How about a bag of trash? Would you like that?”

I throw the bag into his chest and stomach and he takes a step back.

Liquid starts leaking from the bag onto his jean shorts and down his skinny legs and into his floppy tennis shoes.

Fortunately, no one approached me and the trash was successfully delivered into the dumpster. I returned to the office where the gnats expressionlessly greeted me and continued to float and fly around my head.

I scanned through the rest of the to-do list.

“Not going to do that, or that, or that.” I checked off the items; done and refused to be done were basically the same thing and taken down one by one until the list was completed.

I added a last and final task, perhaps the most difficult: Improve Attitude.

“The world is so full of a number of things. I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”

                                                                                                              –Robert Louis Stevenson

Warranted

Grain
hc

Three men in green uniforms stormed the building today.

By stormed, I mean they respectfully walked down the hallway with heavy, black boots. They stopped in front of the designated door where they knocked and politely announced themselves as public servants ready to serve.

Like bloodhounds on a scent, they knew they were close when the front door opened. The men in green had to be calm and patient or the little bunny might just scamper out the backdoor as she had done in the past.

“No reason to look inside,” the man who answered the door explained. “She is gone, like I said. She left out of here about three days ago and I haven’t laid eyes on her since then.”

The men in green were smart and hated to waste gas on a fruitless trip. In fact, they brought an extra roomy vehicle so the bunny would be comfortable as she was transported to her new home.

It took some creative coaxing and a teensy, tiny threat and the men in green got inside where they witnessed a miracle, performed more frequently than expected, especially in their line of work.

Lo and behold, the sudden and unexplainable appearance of the missing woman!

After the woman was gently apprehended and assisted to the backseat of her pre-arranged transportation, the man who answered her door came into the office. He spoke with gratitude that went against his grain, perhaps misdirected or drug induced, but nonetheless genuine.

“Now she’s safe,” he said over and over again.

“Thank you.”

Buddy

buddy

Buddy
Buddy appeared as unexpectedly as he disappeared. A flash, a flame, and he was gone.

It was a steamy hot, summer day in northern Indiana, the backdrop to all of my childhood memories, when he came into our lives. Tar bubbled up from the road and squished underfoot. Birds sighed in their nests and old men carried around handkerchiefs to wipe off their sweaty foreheads and dripping noses. Everything felt hot, unless we were lounging in a tree or swimming in the “pool.”

The “pool” was actually a large, yellowed plastic container, originally used for farm chemicals with the top cut off. Nobody knew that chemicals absorbed into plastic at that time and if they did, it didn’t matter.

We were the invincible riff-raff. We ran around topless and barefoot, living on red popsicles and white bread baloney sandwiches and only coming in at dark.

Yes, we were those kids, living that life, if you happen to be wondering.

Brains, my brother, and I splashed around in the pool.  We zipped back and forth across the plastic container, dodging horseflies and pretending to be otters, when Brains popped up from the water. We heard the same things, yipping and barbed wire banging against a fence post, the rustling and shaking of something big and wild.

“Puney, let’s investigate.”

I nodded at Brains. Investigate was our favorite word for adventuring into an abandoned barn or open garage. We jumped over the brittle, plastic edge of the pool and shook off like little wet dogs.

Like the little wet dogs that we were, we trotted off after the noise. We made it across the hot road, popping tar bubbles with each step and discovered the source. A dog with shiny black fur and white teeth, whimpered for help. Its powerful back legs were twisted up in the barbed wire fence. The more the animal fought, the worse its predicament became.

“Brains, this is bad,” I said.

My little brother nodded, “Let’s get Mom.”

He took off for help, a first responder and action taker from an early age, and returned with a basket of garden tools.

“There’s no time to find Mom. We have to do this now.”

With a pair of wire clippers and four little hands, the dog was liberated from the fence.

“There you go, Buddy. You’re free.”

The dog looked at us with gratitude in its deep, brown eyes. And like that, Buddy was off leaving behind only a ruined barbed wire fence, but that was for the grownups to figure out.

A rare day

sun 3It is a rare day that my office is quiet. I am looking around with a strange wonder at the silence. Soon, one person will come in followed by three more with paperwork to review, an emotional crisis from a jilted lover, problems with work, and so on. The list of needs is endless, as is their ability to surprise and delight, disappoint and frustrate.

Their future is limitless, unless one takes into consideration the difficulty in navigating through government benefits and broken systems. The world is their oyster, aside from the series of trauma based experiences that brought them to the point of living in transitional housing.

This work is not easy, but it is not about me. Ego must be checked at the door each day because this is not where one comes for validation or even that warm, fuzzy feeling. My supervisor described my role in terms of the tangible.

“You have to be like jello over razor blades that will cut you at some point.”

Yet, it is worth the cuts and the chaos. At the end of the day/week/month, there is always a victory, someone breaking through another barrier that was previously impossibly impassable. The quiet gives me the time and space to remember that, there is always a small victory.

Believe in each other, believe in humanity.

Humanity has to win because if it doesn’t we are no better or more evolved than our fore-monkey mothers and fathers picking fleas from the furry backs of one another.

Oh, the humanity

heads

Circling the parking lot outside of a doc’s office, I grumbled at all of the sick people. Still no legit spots in sight after two loops so I parked in a handicap spot and ran inside. I considered adopting a temporary limp but felt that would be even worse. I had to pick up a packet of paperwork from a nurse; I expected to be in and out. A limp would take extra time.

Please, I begged the universe, don’t let me get towed or a ticket although I clearly deserve it.

The waiting room was filled the sick people who owned the bothersome vehicles. A man in a dirty white t-shirt had crutches leaned against his chair, another man wheezed as he ate a sandwich in his wheelchair, a woman with a tiny bun of thinning hair was surrounded by bags and coughed into a ball of ragged Kleenex. Briefly, one woman looked up from her cell phone when I rushed in and returned to the tiny screen with complete disinterest.

The room was filled with people and their problems. If I had a little mask, the kind with an elastic string, I would have put it on with great haste in hopes of preventing the spread of desperation.

I tried to remind myself that I am not a bad person.

These were the people who needed the handicap parking spot in the front of the building. They were here to find answers to what was wrong with them. I wanted to clue them in that it’s everything. Life can be wrong and unfair but it goes on. I wanted to help them to reframe the situation. Let’s not think about what’s wrong with your aching joints or lower back, why you have that cough, or distended belly.

Let’s focus on what’s right with your life.

You are at a doc’s office, so that’s a start. The sun is shining. We have fresh water and clean air. The streets are paved. Education is free and so are we, for the most part excluding freedom from debt and government rule.

Leaving the office with papers in hand, I let out a great sigh of relief. I had been holding my breath without realizing it as I traveled across the waiting room. The germs, my sensibilities screamed. The bugs, my unfounded fears yelled. The desperation of living on the fringes of never having enough, my inner voice quieted down overcome with reason, truth, perspective, and finally gratitude.

The humanity, oh the humanity.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Morrison_(announcer)

http://www.humanity.org/

Hiding out on Halloween

How to Grow Pumpkins

It doesn’t take much to bring out my antisocial tendencies.  A drop in the temperature to anything below 40 is enough to keep me inside even on the best bar “holiday” of the year.  Add in rain with the chance for snow and it guarantees my place on the couch, thoughtfully watching the world from the window.

So far I’ve only seen a deranged child clown leading a pack of hobos each carrying bulging bags of what I can only assume are filled with candy.  As they shuffled by, I most fervently hoped that the costumed gang would pass our darkened doorway for the homes of our neighbors with carved pumpkins on the steps, orange lights outlining the porch, and giant inflatable lawn pumpkins.

I question myself at times like this when there isn’t a single place in the world I would rather be than curled up on my couch next to my sweet husband.  He is ready to face the elements for a night out on the town yet willing to stay in with me.  We used to be out every weekend at a party or a bar and now we stay in if the weather is bad or a good show is on tv or the cats seem extra needy.

Fortunately, we are stocked up on lunch meat, pumpkin beer, and a bowl of fun-sized candies intended for the trick-or-treaters.  It’s warm and cozy inside and we have everything we need, including a sense of appreciation for the simple things like microwave popcorn and scary movies on cable.

These are the nights.

On Rubber Necking

Rubbernecking is the act of gawking or staring, usually stupidly and slack-jawed, at something of interest.- wikipedia

When I see flashing red and blue lights, I can’t stop myself from trying to get close enough to see what’s the cause of the commotion.  I change lanes and slow down as I pass by the nearest point, just to get a good look.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be involved in the mess.  I just want to have the knowledge of what happened tucked into my mental file labeled “I’m glad it wasn’t me.”

Unfortunately, the “I’m glad it wasn’t me” file is getting to be rather bulky, filled with images of accidents, ambulances, people getting tickets or arrested, and broken down vehicles on the side of the road.  Each year brings another set of things to file away that used to bolster my spirits to not be the person on a stretcher or reaching out to take a speeding ticket.  Now, it does just the opposite. I feel instant sadness to realize how little control we have over these things.

A few days ago, I saw those irresistible flashing lights straight ahead of me at the end of the street.  As I approached, I took in the whole scene.  Two police cars were parked on either side of an old car that was slowly being destroyed by rust and neglect.  A shirtless man lay on his back with his arms handcuffed behind him surrounded by several officers.  They wore dark sunglasses and long faces like it was part of their uniform as they stood around the man with their arms crossed over bullet-proof protected chests.

Suddenly, the man started to jerk and twitch like he was being bitten by a thousand fire ants.  I watched his skinny torso writhe in the grass without the use of his hands to brush off the antagonizers.  I’ll never know if it was ants, a seizure, or the side effects of a nasty drug because I kept driving, like always.

As I drove off and left the man to his fate, I kept thinking.  I wondered if that was his worst day.  I wondered how many choices and random events away are any of us from our worst or best day.  We can control our speed but we can’t control the truck that blows through a stop sign.  We can choose happiness but can’t avoid the tragedy of life.

When I see the flashing lights, I’ll keeping looking, if only to be reminded of my own humanity and vulnerability.