Dateline: Thu 13 Dec 2012

Thanks to the Advent concert at St. Paul Episcopal Church Sunday, the Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass at St. Monica Catholic Church Wednesday night (her feast day) and today's work at the Boulevard Place Food Pantry, this has been indeed a blessed Advent.

Maybe you have to be 65 or so to be ready for it. Maybe Christmas is for children...and old people. We don't have the stresses of younger adults, so we can take it where we find it and enjoy it in all its glory and simplicity. It really is, for Christians, a great and marvelous time....anticipatory, child-like, joyous.

My favorite activity of the past week has been the food pantry, even tho it's something I do often. Although the two other events --- both intensely musical -- were gorgeous, pure and simple. Both free, so if you are looking for activities next year to enrich your life, go to St. Paul for the Advent music and poetry, and to to Guadalupe wherever. I love the sound of men crying out, from the pews, "VIVA GUADALUPE!" Also, the strong sense of family. God bless our Indianapolis Latino Catholic population, and thanks for enriching my life.

I do better with poor people than the rich. Rich people make me uncomfortable. Not that I've known that many, but enough to know that the gulf is too great. This is not true of all rich people, of course. I like Bill Cook, whose biography by journalist Bob Hammell I am reading. I like some of the Pulliams and various affluent friends from childhood and college...but for the most part, I'm not at home with the rich.

I realized this when a (very rich, older) friend invited me, a young reporter, to a fancy dinner in Evansville, lo these many years ago. As many courses of exotic food was being served, this older woman, my friend, said to her friend, also affluent, "I wonder what the poor are doing tonight." Well, not what we were doing.

Today at the food pantry, I encountered numerous poor people who blessed me, wished me merry Christmas, and in general were easy to talk to. I mostly do better with the poor than the other volunteers, all of whom are great. But I prefer the poor.

Poor people, at least some of the ones I've met from time to time, smell like my friend Peaches Pickell from childhood. She was the poorest kid on the block --- very small, with dishwater blond hair, a Catholic, whose mom was always pregnant. Peaches always had her younger brother in tow.

Peaches had a smell like a French child: unwashed potato. The fragrant odor of human hair that has not been subjected to chemicals and perfumes on a nightly basis. Skin, in all its human glory.

I love the smell. I inhaled it today, in all its human richness.

Peaches was a good friend. Even if she did give me head lice twice. We happened to love one another, in the way that only children can...purely, simply. 

The poor who come to the food pantry often walk. Thus they carry 20 lbs. or so of groceries back to their homes, in Aldi platic bags (thank you Mr Aldi). Some ride bikes (always guys) and balance two big duffel bags on either side of their bikes. It's an art form, being poor.

Some of the poor are sick. They cough. They are weak from a recent surgery. Some have a faint whiff of alcohol on their 9 a.m. or so, which you would, too, perhaps, if you had to go to the food pantry and walk 14 blocks to your apartment. "Drugs are the only vacation some people ever get." Alcohol works.

My favorite man today was buying for himself and his two sons, ages 9 and 16. After we had bagged his groceries, and were chatting while his friend finished, he showed me his leg. "I was burned in a fire," he said. The leg was so malformed, so skinnny, I at first thought it was a prothesis. But no. It was his skin and bone.

He'd had skin grafts and enormous pain while undergoing all this, he related....not with self-pity, but just telling me his story. The tautness of skin grafts were also very painful. He got sick from the painkillers -- "They upset my stomach" -- as narcotics will do. He was glad to get rid of them. Yet some rich people, and some poor, and some middle-class, will do anything to get narcotics. Not this man. He was old school. He maintained. He did not have all his teeth, especially the front ones, but he maintained.

Sometimes the poor people have bronchitis, or breathing problems; they lean on their carts. One young woman, anticipating surgery, had to leave before she had filled her bag. She felt very sick.

Yet they remain grateful for what they get.

We have a lot of food in this country. It's a great country. I am happy the poor get that extra food, and I am happy they are so mostly cheerful. They bless me far more than I bless them. God bless the poor!





ray moscowitz [unverified] said:

It takes true talent for a writer to wear his/her heart on his/her sleeve. Balance is crucial. Empathy is essential. Too much cloying results in a syrupy mess. The axiom "show, don't tell" is the key factor. You proved this today, Ruth.

If this blog had run as a column in this morning's Star, more people would be talking about it than the other columns combined.

2012-12-14 09:01:33

hendy [Member] said:

The St VdPs, the food pantry people, these are the unsung heroes that believe what St Matt said in the Beatitudes.

All of the politics in the world don't matter when you don't know where your next meal is coming from, or how or where you're going to sleep tonight, and tomorrow night or how your kids will get shoes and clothes for school, let alone lunch.

2012-12-14 09:58:05

hendy [Member] said:

The St VdPs, the food pantry people, these are the unsung heroes that believe what St Matt said in the Beatitudes.

All of the politics in the world don't matter when you don't know where your next meal is coming from, or how or where you're going to sleep tonight, and tomorrow night or how your kids will get shoes and clothes for school, let alone lunch.

2012-12-14 09:58:07

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

Ruth. Thank you so much for your beautiful and truthful post! These are the people who matter most to God. (In fact, I'm personally not all that removed from being one of those people, so maybe that is why I feel such a kindred spirit with them).

Wealthy people make me uncomfortable too. As you noted, there are exceptions, but so many I have known are so amazingly out of touch with reality.....they are in a distinct minority in this world when they have so much more than they need - while millions of others do without.

Hendy, your comment was right on the mark as well.

2012-12-15 23:20:12

George Stuteville [unverified] said:

I volunteer once a month with our church's Grate Patrol homeless ministry in DC. We ride in a Salvation Army van and deliver soup and sandwiches to street people. After a couple of years doing this, I know the regulars. There are a couple of folks that never fail to grab my heart. One of our guys lives in shadows and will hardly come out. We leave a bag of sandwiches for him in a trash can in a park near the White House. That's the only way he will get his food. Another guy who lives on a steamy warm-air exhaust grate behind the Corcoran. He is always damp. Once it was so cold that the water droplets in his hair were freezing when we gave him his soup. There is another guy who lives by the IRS building. He refuses to wear shoes and will not take the socks we offer. He seems impervious to cold. I have seen him come and get in line with the others in the dead of winter wear only sweatpants and a sleeveless shirt. Once, during a fierce rain, he came up to our van wearing a trash bag with a hole cut out. That's the only concession I have ever seen him make to weather. I am just struck by the irony of these folks juxtaposed against our capital's most familiar landmarks. Often I think of the phrase I once heard from someone I covered: "We live in a country that can't do enough for those who need it least and won't enough for those who need it most." Anyway, my job is to hand out sandwiches, ladle soup, whatever. Last week we gave them Christmas cards our church's kids had made in Sunday School. Many of our "clients" on the street were absolutely delighted to get those cards.

2012-12-17 13:23:43

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