It’s the small mercies that make all the difference.
January ended inauspiciously.
We had a rough first month of the year, with gas bills through the roof after December’s severe cold, and we still don’t have a working vehicle, so recently Michael and I ended up going downtown on the bus to get a food box to stretch out the week’s groceries. I hate going to the food pantry. It seems like cheating when some months we’re perfectly fine and buy bags of supplies to share with the Friendship Room, but once in awhile we can’t quite make ends meet and have to get help. That’s why we got off EBT a few years ago and never quite qualified to get back on, after all. If we did, we wouldn’t be getting a pantry box. Next month we might be rich. This month, we didn’t even have a car for their curbside service.
Michael and I stood in a queue meant for vehicles, sandwiched between beat up old jalopies in the muddy gravel, for about twenty minutes, chatting. Then, seeing how cold we were, the volunteer invited us to stand in the warehouse and pack our own bags instead of shivering outside. Some volunteers who work with Steubenville’s poor are taciturn, but she was pleasant and chatty.
“My doctor says I’m supposed to be low carb,” I said apologetically as I rooted through the box.
“Oh me too!” said the volunteer. “I’m keto.”
“So am I!”
As we loaded down Michael the human pack mule with three cloth bags, the volunteer and I talked about being on a keto diet. It felt like being in a foreign country and happening to meet someone who spoke my language. Yes, I could eat these green peppers and this beautiful fresh broccoli, as long as I watched my servings. I like to dip them in sour cream. No, I couldn’t eat the rice cereal and Ritz crackers, but Michael could, so please don’t bother to unpack this bag, I know you’re busy. My daughter would like the grapes. Thank you so much, this is helpful. The lady ran back to the produce boxes and gave me two extra zucchini. Last of all she gave us an opaque plastic bag containing two frozen meat items, one in a flat package and one in a round one-pound log– carefully tied shut so I couldn’t see. I spent the bus trip home wondering what the two mystery meats were– hamburger and a package of sausage patties, as it turned out. Treasure. Some months they only have hot dogs or cans of tuna.
When I got home, Adrienne helped me unpack. She munched a thick branch of the broccoli tree while I put things away and took an inventory of the cupboard and fridge– yes, what perfect luck, we had some leftover broth and several small bits of different kinds of cheese. I could make cream of broccoli soup for dinner. I didn’t have an immersion blender, but but I had a daughter who likes chopping broccoli into extra-fine confetti. I chatted with her as we made soup together, and then we chatted as we ate.
Ketogenic cream of broccoli soup is the best soup, the most decadent soup. It’s a soup you would voluntarily eat even if you weren’t on a diet. In the winter, after standing outside and catching a bus, it’s as comforting as a day at the spa. Adrienne, Michael and I each had two helpings and scraped out the whole pot.
Life felt good for a minute.
Today, Candlemas, dawned fair and bright. That’s supposed to be ominous, but again it felt good. The sun glittered off the last of the icicles and the whole world felt clean. A little money came in, just enough to pay the shutoff amount on a bill to avert a disaster and then pick up a few things. I walked to the shopping center, admiring the sun.
It seems like we haven’t seen the sun in weeks.
It feels like I haven’t seen the sun in years.
It’s felt like we’ll never go swimming again, we’ll never go to Columbus to visit the hiding place again, no museums again, no hikes again.
Truthfully, it feels like this every winter. I got that museum membership last spring, because I thought I could go to Pittsburgh and look at art when the winter blahs got severe. And now here I am with no vehicle in the middle of winter. Life had a way of making sure I suffered through the winter anyway.
I walked up and down the aisles at TJ Maxx and Jo-Ann in the shopping center, just to look at interesting things, to pretend I was at the museum.
When I got to Kroger, they’d just laid out the manager’s special meat that was about to go bad, so I counted out what we had to spend and got some. I went to the Starbucks counter. I handed them my gift card I’d gotten for a Christmas present, to see if there was anything left on it– and, to my surprise, there was enough for a cold brew.
I drank it as I waited for the bus.
Small mercies are all it takes to get me through, sometimes.
It’s going to be all right.
Maybe it will even be better than all right.
Maybe someday soon, it will be Spring.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.