Changing perception.

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. ~ Viktor Franklchange

I was working at the Food Pantry the other day.  Well, several of us were sitting around talking because we had no clients, no one who was seeking food.  I hope the fact that we had no clients that day is a good thing, that it means no one in our neighborhood was hungry for at least a day.  That’s my optimistic view of the situation.

We volunteers have some good chats on slow days.  I try not to let my divorced status define who I am, but at the same time, I am very open to discussion of my situation just in case it might be helpful to someone who takes the time and trouble to ask questions.  I usually prefer to assume that the questions are sincere and not prying.

One of the women asked if I mind living alone.  I have to admit I hadn’t thought about it in a while until she asked.  (That’s a sure sign that I’m doing well, don’t you think?)  I considered the question for a moment and responded, “No, not really.  I do have a cat after all.”  I went on to tell her that I missed my husband horribly for a long time but I don’t anymore, that I have adjusted to what is, and am content.  She said, “That’s a really good thing — learning to be happy where you are with what you’ve got.”

I’ve thought a great deal about that statement.  It certainly sums up where I am today.

Back at the beginning of our separation, I read somewhere that it takes a year of recovery for every five years a couple is together.  At the time I had trouble wrapping my mind around that notion, thinking “I don’t have that much time.  Let’s just get on with it!”  I have learned, though, that it has proved pretty accurate in my case.  I wanted to hurry up the healing but I wasn’t able to.  Some things take time.

I no longer think too often about D and our marriage.  Oh sure, things pop up but I don’t dwell on the negatives much.  I have thought about my ex this week because he had a birthday a couple of days ago.  I considered sending him a happy birthday text but then I asked myself, “Why would I do that?”  I don’t hate him.  I don’t dislike him.  But I don’t like him very much either.  And I don’t owe him anything.  I guess I’m idling here in the middle and it’s a pretty good place to be.

Oh, okay.  Happy birthday, D.  Thirty years is a long time and old habits die hard.

People change and forget to tell each other. ~ Lillian Hellman

The Food Pantry.

When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint.  When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist. ~ Helder Camara

Yesterday I volunteered for the first time at a local food pantry.  An acquaintance had told me they sometimes have Spanish-speakers who come seeking groceries and they need a volunteer who can speak their language.

I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to take on another project.  I didn’t know whether I wanted to learn a new “trick.”  But for some reason a little voice in my mind told me to go for this one.  Fortunately, my concerns vanished the minute I walked through the door.

The other volunteers welcomed me and immediately set about my on-the-job training.  One long-term volunteer took me under her wing and explained my duties.  Food Pantry workers have been around for a long time and these women, and one man, impressed with me with their streamlined approach to getting the job done.  Someone has already invented this “wheel” and these folks know how to use it.

Two volunteers work with each client: one to explain their point system and the choices available, and one to keep a stroke count of the points as the client makes his/her selections.  The number of points depends upon the number of family members.  It worked quite well.

There is an anonymity policy firmly in place at the Pantry.  Each volunteer must sign a pledge to protect the identity of every client who visits the facility.  I tell you this in order to say that there were a couple of families represented yesterday that touched me deeply.  I would like to make some comments about them, but I am changing details in order to avoid even a remote possibility of betraying their privacy.

The first was a mother with her three children.  I don’t think I approached this job with preconceived notions about who the clients would be, but I couldn’t help thinking, as we assisted this family, that they looked like a typical American middle-class family.  They were well-dressed.  The children were polite.  The mother was very grateful, and apparently surprised at the amount of food they could take.  She was attentive to her children and let them help choose things they liked to eat.

The youngest child, a little boy, spotted a small jar of honey, and wanted it in the worst way.  He would pick it up, ask his mom if he could have it; his mom would explain that something else might be more practical, and he would put it back.  A couple of minutes later he would pick it up again and quietly ask his mom again if he could put it in their cart.  I cannot tell you how happy I am to report that he got the honey.  His mom finally asked him how he would use it.  He explained that he could put it on toast or add it to a peanut butter sandwich.  Such a small thing.

My first clients taught me that maybe all of us are closer to poverty and hunger than we realize.  I don’t know what happened to this little family that put them in a bind, but I do believe it could happen to anyone, given the right (wrong) circumstances.

The other client was a woman who came in alone.  She had been in this country only a few months.  Her English was pretty good.  She was able to communicate.  She explained that her English teachers had been British, so adapting what English she knew to the American South is a bit tricky.  We tend to drawl and elongate some of our vowels down here.

She was able to tell us that they left their home because they feared for their safety.  They were persecuted for their religious beliefs.  They came here because “America has many opportunities for those who work hard,” and they can practice their faith freely.

She told us she has three children.  Her husband has finally obtained a green card and has found a job.  He held a good position in their home country, but because of the language barrier, he can’t get a good job here.  Hopefully, he will move up rapidly, she told me.  He is working very hard.  The children are happy to be here and are learning English rapidly.  They have adapted well.

Yesterday was one of the coldest days we’ve had this season, and this woman had walked several miles to get to our site.  She told me her child’s school principal had told her about us.  She chose her groceries and told us her husband would pick her up at 3:00 pm when he got off work.  That meant she would sit there and wait for more than two hours for her ride.

I asked the coördinator whether it would be okay for me to take the client home.  (I’m the new kid on the block.  Don’t know what’s appropriate.)  She said I could ask.  I told the client, “I would like to take you home.  Would you allow me to do that?”  She gave me a big smile.  “Yes. Thank you.”

As I was driving away, after dropping T and her groceries off, and meeting her oldest daughter, all I could think about was how much we who live in a free society take for granted.  I feel humbled and grateful.