I had a Ziplock bag of homemade chicken stock in the freezer. I always did; whole chickens were the cheapest meat to buy with food stamps, so I boiled the bones and saved every drop of the water to make Mulligan stews. We were constantly in a state of having next to no food in the house, but a freezer crammed full of blocks of cloudy yellow ice.
There was a sack of brown rice in the cupboard, and a can of black beans as well. Of course, we couldn’t afford to give them away– it would be irresponsible. We’d be begging for help by the end of the month. But then again, we’d be doing that anyway. There was no way to get through a month prudently. We would always be several meals behind what we needed, and have to beg. We were doomed to look foolish no matter what. It might as well happen a day early.
I boiled the rice in chicken stock. I stirred in cooked beans and a generous sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. I scooped the rice into a lidded mixing bowl, and I wrapped it in towels and foil to keep it warm.
I stuffed the bowl and the sleeping bag into Rose’s wobbly stroller. I left Michael watching Rosie, I struggled into my big tattered coat, and I pushed the stroller two miles downtown.
Twice, the wheel of the stroller popped off when I was on the steep hill by the highway. Once I got it back on myself; the second time, a total stranger climbed the partition and helped me. I guess I should have dumped the stroller and ran when I saw a burly man climbing the chain-length fence in the dark on a winter’s night, but I needed his help, and I stayed.
He popped the wheel back on and helped me get to the bottom of the hill.
“Get down to the warming center,” he urged. “They’ll help you.”
He’d mistaken me for a homeless person.
The wheel of the stroller popped off for the third time as I pushed it over the curb. Some of Molly’s volunteer friends rescued me.
“Come in!” they said, mistaking me for a homeless person as well. “Get some coffee! Warm up.”
There was no need to ask for the bowl back. Molly’s husband Bill scooped my rice into bowls and served it to everyone present without any left over to store.
“Thank you so much,” said a woman about my age, exalting over her bowl of cheap brown rice in chicken stock. “My mom used to make rice just like this before she died. I haven’t had it in years.”
I pushed the lightened stroller back uphill to my apartment, in winter, in the worst part of LaBelle.
I suppose it was dangerously cold at that point, but I didn’t notice.
I felt warm. I felt, for the first time in well over a year, as if I belonged to a community– as if I was a human being and not a burden. Like I had a place in the Body of Christ, or at least in downtown Steubenville. I was a person like anybody else.
That may have been the moment I began to realize that there weren’t two different kinds of people. It took weeks and months of mulling it over to be certain, and I still forget it far too often. But that was the moment I felt like a human. And, I began to see, if I was human, so was everybody else. Michael, Rose and I; The horrible woman upstairs and her string of boyfriends; Molly and Bill and the volunteers; the burly man who climbed the fence; the woman enjoying the brown rice like her mother used to make; the people who had no utilities and the people who didn’t have homes in the first place; we were all the same. Accomplished people and failures, “street people” and respectable suburban folks, were human beings. There wasn’t a divide– there wasn’t a difference. There was only one kind of person.
You can call the delivery of the moth-eaten sleeping bag an act of charity if you like. But to me, it was pure self-preservation. I’d found a way to feel human. And through that, I found a way to see others as human. Somewhere in there I began my conversion– Lord knows I’ve got a long way to go.
I suppose it was a deeply imprudent act, fueled by selfishness, but God has used it for good.
(image via Pixabay)