(Continued from Saturday . . . )
Today’s posting is one I wrote for June 9, 2011. Hardly anyone read my blog then, so I suspect it will be new to most of you. My reason for reposting it is to illustrate how my mother’s example, as displayed in last Saturday’s posting, influenced me.
In that post I shared with you how she responded to everyone with great respect. I learned from her that in giving, we receive. The following story illustrates that. It took place in the spring of 1967, a few months after I left the convent in December 1966.
Three weeks later, I was offered a job in Dayton, Ohio. Before I left home, Dad warned that men might “hit on me” if I followed the same route every day. He cautioned against that. I posted Dad’s advice on June 7, 2011, should you like to read its humor.
Mom and Dad on the farm in the mid-1950s.
Dad was proven right; men did approach me. They didn’t “hit on” me however. Instead, they asked for money. I always gave them whatever change or dollar bills I had. I’d been taught that we could come upon Jesus unawares and not recognize him. In my mind, these men were Jesus. I couldn’t say no.
One day the vice president of the publishing firm where I worked saw me handing money to a man hunkered against a store wall. “Thank you, Ma’am,” the drifter said and smiled. A serene smile over the gaps of missing teeth. Surely Jesus.
I walked on to where my employer waited. “Dee, don’t give these guys money,” he said. “I know how much you make.”
“They might be Jesus.”
I explained. He shook his head. “If you have to give them something, tell them you’ll buy breakfast for them. They’ll turn that down flat. They’re only looking for booze money.”
I took his advice and found him wrong in his assumptions. I ate breakfast with several of these men who inhabited the sidewalks, their heads drooping between tented knees. Together, we gobbled eggs, bacon and sausage links, hash browns, toast, sweet rolls, coffee lightened with cream. All the while, the men shared their life stories with me. Each had a story to tell that showed me the mystery of human existence and the vagaries of life.
One of these drifters had a different definition of woman from what I’d learned in the Scholasticate—a definition I shared in this blog on June 4, 2011.
On the spring day I met this defining man, I was wearing a new dress. Short-sleeved. Bright yellow splotched with white daisies. A narrow belt.
A dress I bought the summer after leaving the convent.
I stood across from the office, waiting for the light to change. In soiled clothes, he teetered toward me. His face sported whiskers and dirt. His straggly hair hung against his hunched shoulders. This is Jesus I thought.
I started to dig for coins.
“Ma’am, you’re one mighty fine woman,” he mumbled.
I dropped the coins and quickly leaned over to pick them up, my thoughts scrambled. He’s talking about my figure. This dress is too clingy. My body’s not hidden in black serge. He can see the outline of my bosom. I covered it with my purse.
“Did ya hear what I told ya? One damn fine woman,” he slurred.
The light changed. I started across. He followed.
“One damn fine figure of a woman.”
“Thank you.” I was walking faster.
“I’m tellin’ ya the truth, Ma’am. One mighty fine figure.”
I wanted to run, but this was Jesus. He might smell like whiskey, but who says Jesus has to be a teetotaler? He was the most famous brewer of all time. Witness Cana. Who says he has to wear newly laundered clothes? This was Jesus.
“How’d you like some breakfast?”
I treated him to a meal. Hank was a fine man.
I wasn’t a seamstress. But I was one fine figure of a woman.
Now surely this is an example of how in giving, we receive.
An afterword: For much of my adult life I let others define me. Only in the past few years have I chosen to grow into and embrace my own definitions.
During this month of January, I’ve planned a series of postings about my peaceful activism. Working on this series, I’ve realized that since my youth, I’ve been a seeker of justice for all.
Once again, this on-line memoir is revealing to me something about myself. Thus is the healing power of telling our story.
(Continued on Thursday . . . )