Saturday, May 12, 2012

Kindness....and Cucumbers

A older gentleman changed my day today.  All by himself.  In about two minutes.  It happened next to the banana table, across from the avocados.  I was rummaging around for a nice green bunch as those are the household favorites, and a cart pulled alongside me.  I glanced over; he was in his late 60's I'd say, a little gray but neat and tidy in that comforting way I remember my grandfather being.  He was looking at me.  I blush easily and so, looked down.  He said, "You have such beautiful hair.  My wife had hair like that....have a nice day."  He smiled, I smiled back. "Thank you."  Turning the corner just past the bakery, he was gone.  I picked out cucumbers and tomatoes. 

And kept smiling. 

It wasn't a good day.  Full of my own doubts and accusations, fears and worries.  The skies were black and it was pouring which makes my bones feel as if they're being twisted inside my flesh.  Additionally, my heart has been weary as of late.  Grocery shopping on such days leaves much to be desired, but three boys under 13 make it necessary lest you find holes in the woodwork and missing carpeting. 

It was just one sentence.  And I was smiling.

I've read several things lately about poverty and need around the world.  Commercials on tv with starving children and beaten dogs.  Unexpected suicides haunt the headlines.  Sometimes it seems the need is an can we, how can anyone make a difference in an ocean?

After my years in Guatemala and Mexico, I went to Philadelphia.  While my time spent within the walls of orphanages and health clinics was amazing; nothing--not even those months on a rope and stick cot, the legs sprayed with raid to keep the tarantulas off in the jungle--nothing prepared me for the culture shock I was to experience in Philly. 

We lived in an old warehouse on Kensington Avenue.  The bad part of Kensington, under the El. (elevated train)  Rusted razor wire ran in spiky loops across the tops of our fences and walls. There were four locks of various natures on the front door, three on the back, and a wrought iron grid over every window.  Two bullet holes in the paneling near the television seemed to watch us as we watched it.

'Daily Bread' was the name of our soup kitchen.  Lines would stretch out for blocks when the temperature dropped close to zero.  Lines of broken hearts and damaged souls.  To prevent the arrogance that comes with mission/outreach work, (and if you doubt this, a few hours with many "do-gooders" who do not keep this in check, will convince you)  once a week we were all required to dress in our grubbiest, sans lipstick and scent, and stand in line among those we normally served.  Pick up a tray, a handful of silverware, eat whatever was served.  We sat, side by side, with the shattered.  Crammed onto benches, my thigh pressed against one wearing jeans that hadn't been washed in over a month....and I listened to the wearer tell me he used to be a banker.  Had a wife and two girls.  There was a holiday party at the office and someone had brought a crack pipe...three years later he was eating scrambled eggs and pickles next to me.

The depth of this sore, this cancer, was overwhelming.  Sometimes I couldn't breathe for it.  This was here, in my country.  Blocks on end of devastated people...and above us, trains of suit-wearers, new heels and leather briefcases.  Faces looking down...looking, but never seeing.  I remember confronting many of my own preconceived notions; the idea that if they really WANTED out, these people just had to work harder to get out.

Juanita changed that. 

Juanita was a whore.  An ugly whore.  She went for just $5.  Can you imagine?  That's how much a rock of crack cost two streets over.  One night there was banging on our door.  We had a rule about not opening it after a certain hour, but there was a desperation in this pounding.  I saw it was her...she had a black eye.  I made hot chocolate. 

The rest of the house slept as Juanita and I ate mac and cheese, watched Wheel of Fortune reruns, and talked.  Somewhere near dawn she told me how she became a prostitute.  She had been sold to a man by her mother when she was seven,  And then given drugs to manage the trauma.  Juanita never had a choice or a chance.  I pulled a blanket over her after she fell asleep on the couch and I wept.  Never before had my blessed and protected life seemed so terribly unfair. 

Juanita stayed on my couch often after that.  Once when she was high I had to turn her away, but she came by the next afternoon with a donut for me and apologized.  We sat on the curb, cold sunshine on our cheeks and powdered sugar on our fingers.  I told her I was scheduled to leave the next day.  She smiled.  Do you know what she said?  "Aww, Chantel, you such an angel I knowed I couldn't have you all to myself.  You got other lives to touch."  And she was happy I was moving on.  I wept again, my tears icy in the wind.

She helped me pack my boxes into the truck.  She smelled like strawberry lip gloss when I hugged her. Juanita waved like mad as we drove away, the bald spots on her head gleaming in the sun.  I waved back; hoping, praying I made some kind of difference in her life.

I returned to life as I knew it.  A paying job, dinners at Taco Bell.  However, I lost many friends.  Even the relationships within my family were different.  For I was not the Chantel that everyone kissed goodbye and joked with about living out of two boxes for so, that Chantel didn't ever come back.  I did.  Humbled and bruised, with very different eyes.  I'd seen behind the curtain and lost Peter Pan for good.  Juanita had come to live in my heart in his place.

Since then life hasn't fallen quite so neatly in the rows I'd planned.  It's unfolded with more creases....sometimes holes I've vainly tried to patch.  But those years in some of the darkest and most challenging places--they changed the mother I am.  They changed my art and my voice, the colors I see.  They altered the neighbor I've become, they laid the foundation for the daycare centers I ran.  They shaped the wife and woman that types these words.

That is what kindness does.  It doesn't necessarily dry up the ocean, but it permanently transforms the mind and soul of the giver.  And every life they come into contact with after.  Kindness isn't about curing the disease, but changing a day.  One day can alter the course of a lifetime. 

Or just make someone smile, as they pick out cucumbers.


Shelly said...

This is exquisitely, painfully, beautiful. That you have seen, been squeezed by stark darkness and what comes out of you is kindness? That's a testament to you, too, my friend.

Love this post~

Mary said...

This post made me cry, that was so heart felt and beautiful.

Shrinky said...

I'm at a loss as to what to say, my dearest Chantel. You have lived, dear lady - and well, kindly and generously of yourself. Who couldn't love the person whose eyes have seen, forgiven, and endeavored to help so many so much?

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

You've written some wonderful things before, but this is my all-time favorite. (So far.) Your story about Juanita is beautiful and powerful in itself, and it tells a lot about you and where some of your strength comes from. Thank you for this post!

Robbie Grey said...

Quite beatuful. The closing reminded me of some dialogue I heard once;

"You really want to change the world?"

"No. Just our little part of it."

Camille Griffiths said...

Another beautiful post. :) Your blog is one of the very few that I always have the urge to share with others.

Pearl said...

Perfectly told, Chantel. You are absolutely right -- if only we could get more of the world to see this...


Anonymous said...

A heart you have, bigger than mine it seems, yes?

Peaceful Warrior said...

I have been crying for fifteen minutes so far, and will not be able to stop thinking about this post all day. You are as truly beautiful as Juanita could see through her grateful eyes. Something said as silently as your smile.
Blissed out Grandma was right about this post, as too all the commenters who felt the power of love and compassion move within us.....sorry I'm still crying......

Uh, woah....

I needed this to bring me back down from that overhead train and into the world of love and sharing empathy and true purpose. Thank you Chantel...xx

It is ridiculous that we still live in a world that allows such tragedy, but one thing it does bring out, is the beauty of people like you Chantel, and the guy in the supermarket could see that too....

I am going to tweet this and share it from my other blog if that is ok?

Poem online now..

You are wonderful dearest Chantel....
Thank you for proving the world is not lost, entirely....


Shea Goff said...

Thank you, Chantel. Thank you for being this.

ND Mitchell said...

A beautiful reminder to be kind...

Anonymous said...

Chantel, you have a gifted heart, which comes across in your writing.

I've worked with disadvantaged children in New York, which is why it always amazes me to see how many people are hurting right here in America, yet so much time energy and money is focused elsewhere -
I love and admire how the volunteers must stand in line also,
like working with special needs children and their families you come to truly know and feel another's trauma.

THANK YOU, for this post/prose on real life - so many need to read
your words and realize people right HERE need help not judegement.

Yes, it is so true a sincere and
unexpected compliment can make
a woman or man or child's day.


terlee said...

What a poignant glimpse into who you are, and the depth of your kindness. I wonder how many smiles you've brought to others...too many to count, I'm sure.

Beautiful, wonderful post.

Lo said...

Oh, my dear, Chantal........your are indeed an angel and you write like one too. What an exquisite post......what a beautiful soul. I am honored to know you.

The Loerzels said...

A stunning post! Is anything more random than kindness? Is it really random at all? I'm positive that coming accross your blog was not random for me. Your writing is inspired and inspiring, the kind that fills the soul.

Chantel said...

Shelly--sometimes I think the darkness is what improves us, and thank you.

Mary--thank you, my dear.

Shrinky--I cherish your kind words, truly. When you give yourself away, you get so much more in return.

Bliss--that is an amazing complilment, and Juanita was a life-changing force, for certain.

Robbie--is there a better goal on the planet?

Camille--that is such a sweet thing to say, thank you.

Pearl--amen. (but I fear some shoulder shaking might be involved...)

BamaTrav--Yoda is an all time favorite, thank you.

Warrior--share away, my friend, I take that as such a compliment. And thank you, everyone needs kindness, don't they?

Shea--and thank you for being you.

David--thank you, it makes all the difference, doesn't it?

Paige--working so closely with needy souls changes the way the world looks, doesn't it? And thank you.

Terlee--thank you, sweet lady.

Lo--that, dear Lo, is an amazing compliment, thank you.

Marie--I agree with you, there are forces weaving this tapestry we all live within--and I'm so glad I found you too.

Anonymous said...

Incredible. No one I know writes like you do. I can't tell you how much I enjoy coming here and reading what you have to say. Please don't ever stop!

Anonymous said...

wow I just can't get over your descriptive ways. Your thoughts are beautiful and your ideas and reflections are deep.

The Empress said...

How could you not be changed.

How could you not be different.

The very thing that drew you to this work is the very thing that has changed your heart.

There are different kinds of people in the world, some live on a different plane than others.

Some can feel what others feel.

Some never get over it.

I think you might be one of those.

Beautiful, beautiful work, dear woman.

I'm so glad you came into my blogging life.

Marita Abraham said...

This post is one of the most genuine, heartfelt and inspiring ones I have read in a long, long time.

Thank you so very much.

Kindness is the most beautiful things in the world. Being a receiver of kindness changes your life. Being a giver, changes your universe.

Brian Miller said...

this is a beautiful post...sure there is pain but...i loved meeting juanita...we never know the circumstances that will bring us together you know, and how they will change us...we can change the world...there is an ocean of need and that can either over welm us or...we start one at a the man in the grocery and touch and touch and touch...

Slyde said...

wow, it takes alot to throw me for a loop, but you just pulled it off.

you really are a special person.

And you are a hot little minx, too. :)

Chantel said...

Sarah Kate--I won't if you keep coming! :)

Candy--thank you, often it's the hardest things that make us reach deeper than we would have otherwise, don't you think?

Empress--such sweetness, adore you so.

Marita--what a lovely way to put it, it does indeed change the universe...that was beautiful.

Brian--exactly, one and then another. But it requires that we step outside ourselves...this can be the difficult part.

Slyde--lol, I'm taking this entire comment as a compliment! xo

Pigasus said...

Strong Bodhisattva Practice

Big bow!

Anthony said...

It is amazing how much of an impact our words/actions can have on many lives we touch (for better or for worse)...

Anthony said...

It is amazing how much of an impact our words/actions can have on many lives we touch (for better or for worse)...

The Path Traveled said...

A smile is the most contagious thing we can pass on. Your post reminds me of that commercial where one person does something nice for someone and then someone does something nice for them and it keeps passing on to the next person.
Thank you for making me smile when you wrote this.

Mel Heth said...

Wow. I have to post this link on Facebook so other people can enjoy your words as much as I did.

This line - "I knowed I couldn't have you all to myself. You got other lives to touch." gave me goosebumps.

Chantel said...

Pigasus--thank you, kind sir.

Anthony--yes, we have such power to invest, only we must chose to do so.

Traveled--I know that commercial, isn't that the world we all want to live in? And your comment made me smile in return. :)

Mel--thank you huge. Juanita stays with me always, whispers in my ear when I get it all backwards. xo