Sunday, November 29, 2009

And I too could end up in the line

29 November 2009, Sunday after Thanksgiving

I spent the morning volunteering in a soup kitchen today.

I drove away in my warm car with Kings of Leon on full blast and came home to a warm house, a lighted Christmas tree and three warm hugs. Hubby prepared me a turkey sandwich and listened while I told him about the family that came through the line--the mom batting her little girl's hand away from the piece of cake ("not until you've eaten your rice and chicken!")...about the pregnant teenager who laughed as she struggled to get out of her chair...about the woman who thanked us profusely ("GodblessyouGodblessyouGodblessyou") as she filled her tray with the meager offerings...about the men who would not look us in the eye...about the woman who asked for 6 sugar packets for her Gatorade...about the man who scooped all the leftover butter from every table onto a paper plate to take away with him...and so on....

Since my family had already eaten lunch, I munched on my sandwich in front of the television and together with my toddler (we'll call her Baby Sweet), I watched Wow Wow Wubbzy while my twelve year old (we'll call her Precious) worked on embroidering some Christmas gifts. When I was all done with my late lunch, my always thoughtful Precious brought me a piece of pumpkin pie with a dab of whipped cream, and Baby Sweet gave me a candy cane kiss and a plea for a round of ring around the rosie.

I played ring around the rosie with Baby Sweet in the center of our living room, careful not to smash into the Christmas tree or the piano bench. After falling several times, I decided (my willpower being all but demolished from the Thanksiving holiday) to also eat a piece of cheesecake that I made for a late Thanksgiving with my side of the family yesterday. The cheesecake was surprisingly good--always better after it sits a day or two--made with five packages of cream cheese and sour cream, loaded up with cherries. Finally, stuffed to the brim, I sat down on my comfy couch to cuddle with my children. We changed the channel to some Christmas movie on ABCFamily, and I promptly fell asleep. When I woke up, daylight was all but gone, and my feet were toasty warm, wrapped in a blanket (presumably by Precious).

Friday, this was my Facebook Status: Shopped my head off today in record time! Now wondering if it would cause a lifetime of therapy to have my children wrap their own presents. Just kidding. Mostly.

Funny, huh?

Not so much.

There was a man that came through the line today that caught me off guard. He wore department store suit pants, a v-neck sweater with a tie, of which only the knot showed above the V, and scuffed loafers that dragged across the concrete floor of the soup kitchen. He would not look me in the eye as I handed him a plastic fork and spoon wrapped in a paper napkin. He picked up a plastic cup filled with iced tea, mumbled a thank you into his chest and walked away. His hair was combed back as if there had been a time he used to put gel in it.

Today, I am humbled. Today, I am reminded of all that I have to lose. One false unlucky unexpected fall of the hammer....

I have one manuscript to brush off, touch up, and continue to query as well as another one I'm working on finishing. I also have an interview to post, a clever exchange between the very talented Courtney Reese and the main character of her novel--be sure to look for it tomorrow. But tonight, even though I'm anxious to get back to writing after a four day hiatus, I'm going to go back downstairs and do absolutely nothing--and everything--with my family. I might have another piece of pumpkin pie because it's there, and I don't want it to go to waste. But I can't imagine now spending the rest of my evening away from the people I cherish most just to put words on a screen.

Go hug somebody and be grateful.


  1. Yes... yes yes yes. How many times do I catch myself complaining about all the clothes I have to wash, without feeling even the tiniest bit grateful that I have so many clothes? Or whining about having to get an oil change on the car that I own? Or paying the mortgage on my cute little townhouse? You're right that it could all be lost in a moment. That's when you have to seriously consider what you're putting your faith in, because things in the world are so temporary. Great post!

  2. It's always good to have something put it all into perspective for us. You're lucky you have eyes and a heart that see so clearly. Not everyone does. Lovely post :)

  3. We all need to hear this. Life can change, for better or for worse, in a moment. Your post makes me so grateful for all the things I have.

    And...I'm grateful for Kings of Leon. ;)

  4. Anne, thank you! It's just so easy to take things for granted. I think it's okay to whine about things sometimes. Totally normal--and terrifyingly human. But how fortunate we are when our complaints can be limited to laundry and mortgages. I wish that for you, for all of us.

    Jemi, Many thanks! You are too kind. I don't know that today's experience will feel quite as sharp tomorrow. I hope it will, but it probably won't. So, I'll return to the soup kitchen next month, and hopefully it will remind me all over again.

    Jenny, you are so right. I'm frightened sometimes by how quickly fortunes can reverse, by how fragile life really is. It's so important to try and appreciate fully what you have while you have it so that you aren't forced to appreciate it when you don't. (By the way, I'm with you. Kings of Leon rocks! I have a friend who went to a show of theirs when they were virtual unknowns in a club! Lucky, huh?)

  5. I think this may be the first blog post that ever brought me to tears. Real ones - not just the "I almost cried feeling".

    I love that you volunteered and I love that you understand the value of what you have with your family. I used to lead a youth group in my church and we once went downtown to DC with prepacked lunches and gave them to people who were homeless. I met some absolutely fascinating humans who'd felt the unexpected fall of that hammer...

    Life is a precious, precious thing and too many times people (myself included) take what we're given for granted.

    And also, kindness really does go a long way. Everyone should try it - along with compassion.

  6. Carolina--Wonderful reminder that we need to stop, think, and be grateful. For most of us, the problems we face in our daily lives is nothing compared to the problems of others. Thanks for reminding me!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  7. Puts life into perspective and brings ones own troubles crashing down around our ankles. I do similar volunteer work. Whilst it is emotionally rewarding, it is accompanied by great sadness for me, seeing those less fortunate.

    Good post. Most humbling.

  8. Sara, I'm so touched. The thing is, I hadn't realized I was even writing anything sad--or even how moved I'd been by my experience until after I started reflecting upon it, until I came to the end of this post. I'm so glad to share my experience with you & that it moved you. It's amazing what something like this can do to open your eyes. The same soup kitchen in Indy also offers packed lunches during the week, like what you did, & every time I think of it, I get very sad because I know that even though they have a meal,they may not have someplace warm to eat it.

    Elizabeth, you're very welcome. I'm happy to share the experience with you and so glad you took somethng from it.

    Quill, I think it's fantastic that you volunteer your time like you do. It's truly humbling to witness/share/experience the pain of others. I think there are few things that could help us appreciate the joys in our lives like this. Thank you for your comment (as always, very kind).

  9. What a wonderful reminder for all of us. I don't have much but I have so much. I have a crappy little apartment, but I have a warm roof over my head. I have a car that I really don't like very much but I don't have to walk in the rain to get to work. I have a job that makes me crazy but I have a paycheck that pays my bills. I have a husband who drives me nuts sometimes but I have someone who loves me and a safe place to fall when the world crashes in around me.

    I know I take too much for granted and, as my grandmother used to say, "there but for the grace of God, go I..."

  10. We do take our comforts for granted, don't we? I recently heard on NPR a piece on how we are always comparing ourselves "up"--to those who have more than we do, or who have accomplished more. Apparently even millionaires do it, 'cause, y'know, they're not billionaires. What do billionaires do? I dunno. I don't know any.

    Thanks for the reminder that we should more often be comparing ourselves down. And enjoying pumpkin pie and cheesecake while we have them.

    Lovely post, good lady.

  11. Rhonda, those are lovely words that say a lot about your character. It's just so easy to focus on the difficult things, isn't it? Today has been such a terrible day for me, but at the end of the day, everyone is safe and warm, sleeping in their beds (except me, the night owl). I think your grandmother was a wise woman.

    Simon, that's so true! Grass is always greener and all that. I do have to wonder what billionaires wish for. My guess is that they don't wish for more money. But there's always something. Maybe that's why so many rich people become reality tv stars. Once you have riches, what's left? Not love, of course, but fame. Eh, fame is probably easier to attain for some.


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