Thursday, November 4, 2010

Grits

Going home to Ohio is like exhaling for a really long, slow time. It's a free vacation. It's being at home, but with none of my regular responsibilities and extra help with the kids. It's never about doing anything, really. It's about the exact opposite.

Last week, headed South for a few days, my sister mentioned that she would be serving breakfast to homeless people in Dayton the following day. Without thinking twice, I told her I wanted to go.

I did want to go. But I also knew that I needed to go.

I've been on a frustrating ride lately - a ride that goes no where. It's so strange to feel the rug being pulled out from underneath. I learned that jumping up at the exact time that it is yanked out helps. It softens the landing. It reduces the chances that I'll be tripped up and fall flat. I expected my quick response - my willingness to take flight - to be rewarded with a shiny, new way of living. I was so sure that this house would sell in two weeks - four weeks, tops. I thought we would be tucked safely in elsewhere, by now. I thought we would be doing all of the things we dreamed about, by now.

The trouble is, the rug was yanked and my heart cracked and I jumped high, then I came back down, only to find the very edge - the fringe - still underfoot. I was halfway changed, but I was halfway the same. My life wanted to look different, but there it stood - tall and lanky with eyes an ordinary shade of brown and hair that never falls quite right.

All the while, I'm saying to myself, "Just do something. You do not have to be in a different house to live the life you are supposed to live." I know that's truth knocking and I grip the knob every single day, but my hands must be slippery or the jamb is stuck, because that door never opens.

So I prayed. I prayed again. For opportunity that cannot be ignored. For eyes that see the underground roots and not just the silky petals.

Meanwhile, my cracked heart was scabbing over. It was healing itself back to death, and I knew it. Those blasted catalogs never did stop arriving at my doorstep and I turned around v e r y slowly until I was almost back where I started. I was forgetting what it felt like to be banged up on behalf of someone else. My glasses were fogging over again and it was as comfy as ever, living inside my frosted glass house, where the light could pour in, but I couldn't begin to see out.

That first night in Ohio, Keisha and I stayed up until 3 o'clock in the ayem. I sat near the crook of that familiar, green couch and remembered nights with my friend Angie, where we relished the idea of staying up all night. On this night, my eyes burned and I listened hard and I knew 6:00 was just a few breaths away.

I fell asleep on the horizon of the "L", Keisha on the perpendicular.

Four hours later, my eyes like a couple of marbles in sand, we climbed out of a warm car to the morning-black-sky of inner city Dayton.


We found our way to the kitchen, donned harvesty aprons and name tags with table assignments. The lady who started the ministry was thrilled to have extra, unexpected help. She showed us the ropes and every time I looked at her, all I saw was the love she has for the people that show up every day to be filled with what they need most. I banged around the kitchen and read on taped-up fliers that breakfast had been canceled for all of September, due to a lack of funds. I squirmed as I thought of the breakfast that waits in my kitchen, every single day, no matter what.

The men and women shuffled in and I smiled big and true from beneath the rim of my hat. These people looked nothing like me and I wished it weren't so. I wanted to blend in. I wanted to be shorter, right then. I wanted real worry lines on my face, not just laugh lines.

I always tell myself the lie that people in need will resent my willingness to serve. This escape hatch serves me quite well. It's big enough for me to slip right through and it closes surprisingly quietly. But, as I discovered, it's irrelevant when I'm standing at the threshold of a church while hungry people file past me.

They all said hello and some smiled. One leered and eyed me in a way that made me feel exposed and silly and I wanted, in that moment, to run. I told myself that I am not cut out for this. I prayed that tables 21 and 22 were filled with nothing but women. Who cares if they were mean.

While the eggs cooked, these people, bused in from who-knows-where under moonlight glow, filed into folding chair rows to be filled first with Truth. The message was the same, but it wore different shoes and its hair was messy. It was about being freed from addiction. Walking away forever from crack cocaine. Finding ground stable enough to hold a job and care for a family. It was about the Only way to get there.

I lined jugs of Orange Drink up on tables and watched as men in raggedy clothes walked up the aisle and fell down at the alter.

I prayed while they did. I prayed for them. For me.

The tables filled and number 21 was filled with young, street-wise guys. I wanted to run, but I couldn't. So I walked to them with bowlfuls of grits and heaps of sugar packets. I smiled and looked them in the eye and asked them what they would like to drink. They answered every time with "Ma'am" tacked onto the end and I chanted silently to them, praying that they could hear my thoughts above the din, "I am the same as you."

Every plate was cleaned and they headed back to the buses, back to who-knows-where and the best I could come up with was, "Have a great day". I don't know if it's possible to have a great day in who-knows-where, but I know that if my prayer was answered, if they saw an undeniable glimpse of their Creator, if they carried the glow of love between their jackets and their skin, then their day would be a far cry better than the one that came before. And sometimes, greatness is relative, but other times, it's exactly the same.


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