Thursday, January 24, 2013

doing justice doesn't always make cents...

After a crazy two months, I am back and better than ever.  I am at the tail end of application season (grad school) and (knock on wood) I hope that I won't get too sick again.  

Much has happened, but for now I will leave you with the article I have written for the upcoming newsletter for the Welcome Center, where I work.  It's the story that spawned this post in November.


My afternoons at the Welcome Center are busy and varied; I play "office manager," "lesson planner," "tutor" and "photocopy maker" on a daily basis, while also always trying to be "ready for any good work."  With my desk in the reception area, I am often the greeter of many of our dear neighbors.

One afternoon in November, Edona arrived at the Center directly from her job as a cafeteria worker for a local school. I had only met her once or twice before, but I knew that she had been one of our dear neighbors for quite some time. That day, she had a velvet carpet bag for a purse, which carried her money, three pears for her lunch, and some other sundry items.

"That is a pretty bag," I told her.

"Do you want it?" Edona asked.

"Oh no, thank you," I replied.

It was too late.

Edona began emptying the contents of her purse into a small plastic bag that she'd had inside. "Take it," she insisted.

"Thank you very much, Edona, but I have a bag." I pulled my own purse out from under my desk, as if my word wasn't enough to prove that I did not need the bag.

Edona would not be dissuaded. The whole scenario had reached the point where it was no longer going to take a polite declination of her offering to stop her from giving me that bag. She had turned it inside out and was picking crumbs out of it. I stood in the reception area, thoroughly mortified. In my mind, I was stealing. I had a bag already, and I had another at home, and I could get a bag if I really needed one.

That following Sunday, sitting in church, I heard again the story of the widow who gave all she had. In his homily, the priest recounted a story that he had been told about Mother Teresa. One day, she encountered a beggar who knew of her great works. He wanted to give Mother Teresa his whole day's earnings, about thirty cents. For that man, thirty cents was everything. It meant that he might be able to eat that day. Giving it away meant that he would spend another day hungry. For Mother Teresa, thirty cents was hardly any money. It wouldn't buy much. Taking that man's money, however, meant that he could earn back some of his dignity by feeling connected to her mission.

Mother Teresa took that man's daily bread, and I took Edona's carpet bag. They each offered freely all that they had, and doing justice meant accepting them, as they were.

That bag is a constant reminder to look deeper. I recall stories of people with bottomless bags (Mary Poppins and Hermione Granger come to mind), and I know that my heart must be like that bag, bottomless, open, and freely given.

Edona already knows about bottomless hearts; the proof is that I am the one with the carpet bag.

I needed that bag more than she did, after all.