Thursday, August 26, 2010

Goodness, Graciousness

I was just coming to check on my friend and look what I got,” I heard him say as the van door slid shut just before we pulled away. What he got was a warm meal, some hygiene items and a blanket.

His name was Dave and I encountered him last night on my first venture out in the Uplift van to deliver meals and necessities to the homeless in Kansas City. I was subbing for a friend who does this on a regular basis.

At every stop, we found our guests to be gracious and appreciative. “Thank you so much. God bless you.” We often didn’t have what they needed. “That’s, okay,” they’d say. It wasn’t okay for me. At least half of them asked for shirts and we didn’t have any. I have a drawer full of t-shirts at home—about half of which I never wear. It’s time to go through it again.

We met some who were witty and funny. Two, at separate stops, proudly boasted they had the same waist size they had in high school. By and large they looked out for one another. One stop was across the street from some police activity. One of our guests had been over there. He pointed at the others around the van, “They tried to warn me to stay away from there, but I didn’t listen.

And we met Dave. I don’t know where we were exactly—underneath an overpass somewhere. When we first arrived at this particular stop, we didn’t see anyone. One man came out of the darkness. We served him a plate of pasta with meat sauce and green beans. He came to the side of the van where we offered him hygiene items and other things he might need.

Then, his friend, Dave, came to the van. We served him. He chatted with his friend. He chatted with us. When we asked how he was he said, “Pretty good. I woke up on the right side of the dirt this morning.” As with everyone else, we offered things he might need. Toothpaste? Shampoo? “What I really need,” he said, “is a blessing.

He asked if we could pray. At his urging, we joined hands and he led us in prayer. I don’t remember all the words, it rhymed and I wondered if it was memorized from childhood. One line was “Thank you for all you have given us today.” Perhaps the reason I don’t remember the rest of the words is because I was struck by that line. I am grateful for all that I have, but I don’t often take time out of my day to say thanks for it. The message at church last Sunday was essentially the less you have the more you tend to appreciate what you do have. That was the case for this man.

When I was asked to volunteer, I had no idea what to expect. In the end, I was just helping out my friend, and look what I got. Thank you, God, for all you have given me today.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I opened a can of worms. You can guess how it went from there.

So, I was having a “post the blog entry or don’t post the blog entry” debate with myself and essentially said so on Facebook as my status update. A word of advice: don’t do that unless you’re ready for several people to advise you to post it AND you’re actually prepared to post it. I was not prepared or ready on either count.

My initial hesitancy was just that it got a little more personal than I was prepared to share on the worldwide web. I made it a little less personal, but still I’m not sure I’m ready to share it. I let a friend read it and asked for her advice as to whether I should post it. She’s pretty conservative and private so I fully expected her to caution me against posting it. She didn’t. But still, I am reluctant to do so. I told her I’d think about it over the weekend. The weekend passed. I still wasn’t ready. That’s when I posted my status update.

I appreciated all the feedback I got, but now, I am even more hesitant to post it because, frankly, it’s really not all that good. I feel like there’s this expectation that it will be this moving piece. It’s not. At all. It was just me rambling, as is usually the case.

Anyway, I’m going to sit on it a while longer. Maybe I’ll post it. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll rewrite it entirely and share it in a new form. One thing I know is that writing it in the first place was healing in a way. Maybe that’s all it needs to be.

Going Home

Center, Missouri. Population 644 (at the 2000 census). About 100 miles northwest of St. Louis and about 20 miles southwest of Hannibal. Home.

I’ve been back home a number of times since I moved to the Kansas City area more than 18 years ago. From 2001-2008 I went back about once a month to check in on Mom and/or Dane. Those brief visits didn’t allow for much time to visit with people outside the family or to really connect with the town I called home for 18 years.

Looking for an opportunity for Dane to catch up with old friends, this past weekend I attended what my childhood friend now refers to as “the social event of the season”—Center Park Day. There is apparently some debate about how many years this event has taken place, but it’s been 59-ish years. My aunt recalls the circumstances around how it was begun. I wasn’t around then, I just remember it was a much-anticipated event for the youth of the town. (Adult views were probably more varied.) In my day, it was always held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in August (election day). It is now held the last Saturday in July.

The Park Day of my youth included hourly cake walks and prize walks, kiddie parades, best decorated bike and trike contests, frog jumping contests, a bingo stand, the penny pitch, a dunking booth, water fights…the list goes on. At lunch time, they would randomly stop a family with out-of-state plates—presumably on vacation—at the four-way stop (yes, THE four-way stop…there is only one) and invite them to join us for lunch. They’d be ushered onto the stage and introduced and given a few gifts like a cooler and a road atlas or something and then they’d get a free meal. I always thought that would be an odd experience for anyone. Can you imagine?

Many aspects of the Park Days of my memory continue today. I watched a little girl carry a frog that was bigger than her forearm and plop him down on at the starting line of the frog jumping contest. I didn’t see the best decorated bicycle contest, but I spotted a bike adorned with streamers and wondered how it fared in the contest. The dunking booth was up and running. Dane won a German chocolate cake in the cake walk. My niece, Hannah, won a bike helmet in the prize walk. I watched from afar as youngsters fired water hoses at the barrel suspended from a line. Somewhere I have a plaque from winning the water fight in nineteen eighty-something.

This year, some of the things I remember were gone, but new things entered the mix including a newlywed game where a boy I once babysat was a contestant. There was a “Center’s Got Talent” competition and a “Minute to Win It” game based on a TV show. This suggests that while Park Day is rooted in tradition it can evolve with the times.

The absolute best thing about Park Day, though, is the people you see. I saw former classmates (from grade school through high school) Wendy, Beverly and Joni. I spotted Wendy with her son and asked, “Is this your little one?” She replied, “Yes,” and then she whispered, “He’s a mean little shit.” It warmed my heart to know she hasn’t changed. Beverly was there with her son selling cold water to raise money for a field trip (or something). Joni, who can proudly claim to have never missed a Park Day in 40 years, was there with her teenage daughter and they were looking forward to entering the look-alike contest. (I didn’t see it and I don’t know who their competition was, but they should have had a good shot at winning.)

I saw former Sunday school teachers, and softball coaches and a history teacher and lunch line ladies. I saw former softball teammates, Amber and Dawn. I saw parents of former classmates and friends—Joann and Charles; Mac and Leona; Bert; Judy; and Nancy. I ran into people who I used to see regularly on Sunday mornings at Olivet Christian Church—Ron and Lisa and Jan. All of these people helped shape my life in some way.

I tend to think of Kansas City (or Overland Park or whatever) as home now, but it’s no Center. I think the thing I like most about where I work and where I go to church (both of which have about the same number of members/employees as Center has residents) is the sense of community I feel at each of those places. It’s the sense of community that I first experienced in that little town that is but a speck on the map in northeast Missouri.