Reminders

Once a week, I volunteer at a center that serves women and men who are homeless or extremely poor. I’ve been involved in one way or another with the place for more than a decade, but I still get surprises every time I go…or maybe not so much surprises as reminders.

The first reminder is that there is no typical homeless person. I saw a man who looked like the stereotype–long hair held back with bandana, unshaved face, raggedy jeans–and another who looked for all the world like a physician, with bifocal glasses, a tweed jacket, and a gentle demeanor.

The second reminder was how generous people who are poor can be. They will pray for you, ask how you are doing, and help their friends in just about any way imaginable. They will tithe out of the paltry sums they get from minimum wage jobs or Social Security checks. Today, as I collected meal tickets, one of the regulars–a woman who carries her tiny dog around in her jacket–gave me a beaded bracelet. I knew better than to turn it down–accepting the generosity of others is a lesson learned early in this business.

a gift to pay forward

The bracelet sat on the desk next to me as I did my work. Just about everyone commented on and admired it. Before I left, I passed it along to another woman at the center that day. She needed a pick-me-up.

The third reminder is that the rules are different for people who live on the streets. They can’t be fully themselves. The woman who reminded me of this spent a good deal of the morning on the phone with a lawyer; she was getting help to keep custody of her kids. She got teary telling me about her situation–and who wouldn’t–but then she said, “No tears. Tears are a sign of weakness. Gangsters don’t cry.” I looked at her; she was not a gangster. “You can’t show weakness on the street,” she said. And, of course, she is right.

The last reminder for today was that shelter is more than a roof over your head. I live in a home that is safe and with people who will care for me if I am sick or in trouble. That is a gift. But it is also a gift to be with people who have very little. It is a cliche that they remind us of how lucky we are. Sure, sure. Being with people in extreme poverty also reminds me of how completely human it is to fear your own vulnerability even as you protect those around you who are vulnerable. The poor folks I have met remind me not only of what I have that sets me apart, but what we all have that brings us together. Sometimes, the people who make up your community are a kind of shelter, too. They give you a place to feel safe and they care for you when you are sick or in trouble. They won’t take advantage if you shed a tear. Sometimes, they will even give you a little bling for no reason at all.

This is what happens when a teddy bear comes to life

Disclaimer: This post is in no way like a Seth Macfarlane movie. At all.

A little over two years ago, my husband brought home a puppy without asking. Seriously, he called me and said, “I am bringing home a puppy.” And then he did. I do not recommend this as a way to spice up your marriage. Basically, you are telling your partner, “either I get to keep this dog or you are the cruelest person alive.”

We have two children who adore puppies. They were going fall in love. I’d have to say no and then everyone would hate me for sending the cutest rescue dog in the world to an unknown fate. I was pretty sure I had an ally in our older dog. Lucy was going on 13 and she was not dreaming of a little brother. I prepared for battle when this came home:

This is Max, fresh out of Lost and Found.

I was doomed. Not only was he adorable, he was friendly. Licked everyone, made friends with the older dog, didn’t mess up the house. The kids were in love. I made my husband swear: we only tell them we are keeping puppy for the weekend.
Once we got inside, Lucy began setting boundaries and growled him into shape. He stopped eating her food, but kept making her fall in love. They played. When was the last time my 100-year-old grande dame actually played?
I thought I had an opening to oust him on Saturday night–he peed on our leather couch!!! But then he kissed and we made up. Sigh. By Sunday the kids had named him Max. He was ours. We groomed him, got him “chipped” and my son picked out a leash, collar, and dog bed.

All cleaned up

He is exactly what a teddy bear would be like if it came to life, all cute and snuggly. Not only does he give constant affection, he hugs you around the neck like a little baby. Every night, Max sleeps on my son’s bed and every morning he wakes on my husband’s head. He is also completely ridiculous. Like trying to scratch himself and walk at the same time. He gets bed head from sleeping on the sofa in front of my while I work and then stares at me all lopsided.
And in case you are wondering why these pictures are taken from above, making him look even smaller than he actually is, it’s because if you get down to his level this happens:

lick, lick, lick

Thoughts on ressurrection

In the past week, I have dreamed about my dad a couple of times. He died in 2007 and these dreams have been so awesome! Not filled with deep meaning or any sense of “prediction.” Just my dad showing up and doing whatever it is I am doing in my dream. Sometimes being really funny. I had started to worry I might have forgotten what his voice sounded like, or how he walked. But it was all there.

Shortly after Dad died, my mom had an unsettling experience–unsettling and a tiny bit comforting in a spooky way. (Is that possible?) Every night, she slept in her bed with a bunch of pillows lined up beside her due to some back problems. One morning, after she had been awake for awhile and had her breakfast, she walked by the bedroom. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw my dad sleeping in their bed.

She didn’t go in. He wasn’t really there, it was the pillows. She knew this in her rational mind. But for so long the lump in their bed had been him. It was so familiar! By staying out of the room, she had the feeling for a short time that he really was there and alive and she’d be able to see him again. She stayed out of the room long enough to feel that thrill and little bit of joy/fear.

In the years that followed–even to now–I see Dad sitting in church. The back of other men’s heads, the slope of their shoulders, look just like him. I never want these men to turn around and be who they really are. As long as they face the altar, they are my dad sitting in a pew.

I’ve heard many times (and sometimes said myself) that people live on through the lives of those they touched and taught. And I believe that is true. But in grief there is sometimes an effort to resurrect the lost one in our imaginations, reconstruct the physical person we lost using the sights and sounds around us.

My mom’s experience raised questions for her about what the disciples must have gone through after Jesus died. Did they have similar spooky experiences? For me, the little glimpses I get of my dad still choke me up…I am tearing up just writing this. I feel like I am actually in Dad’s presence again.

My dad.

I wonder about the experiences others have of lost loved ones. And, vainly, I am curious about what will make others think of me when I am gone. Will the back of a white-haired woman give my son a start? Will my daughter do a double-take when she hears a laugh that sounds familiar? As far as I can tell, it won’t be any of my unique mannerisms or traits or deeds that will make them think I am present with them again. The things that make you special are remembered in conversations and stories and artifacts. But what makes a loved one feel “there” is what is seen or sensed of them in ordinary encounters or routines, part of everyday life. Unlike the accomplishments and relics you leave behind, the way you are “felt” when you are gone is entirely out of your hands except for one thing– really being there before you go.