Thursday, October 11, 2007

o-s-c-a-r

I was walking into the shelter when I cavalierly said i am really hungry to a colleague as I walked through the lobby into a meeting. On my way back out I noticed a man sitting by the door.

Hey there, he said, are you still hungry?
A bit confused, I respond yeah, actually, I am.
So he holds out a bag and says I went and got this sandwich from the kitchen because I was hungry too. But I heard you say you were hungry so I saved half of it for you.

And he handed me his bag and turned to walk away. Flummoxed, I stop him and try and hand it back. I can stop and get something on my way out and I'd much rather you have your lunch for yourself. He refuses and grumbles can't an old man do something nice for a young lady anymore? And he turns with a grin and shuffles back to the yard.

There's choices you make in moments like this, choices that honor a man's dignity while trying to balance appropriate work conduct and nothing screams inappropriate work conduct like taking food from the homeless. So I follow him out and try again hey, I've got an idea, let's split it and eat it together. And he turns to me and smiles and says ok but you take the bigger piece, it'll never split up even anyways.

He takes the bag back and reaches gnarled hands inside and pulls out half of a bologna on white (how freaking predictable is that and I realize I really need to talk with our lunch cook for pete's sake because nothing screams homeless food like bologna on white) and tears it in half and hands it to me, the bigger half by an inch.

We stand outside the shelter amidst the smokers and the jivers, the wheelchairs and the sleepers, the workers and the readers and we eat the sandwich together making small talk about the weather. I find I like this man so much, a shelter is no place for him, no place for anyone really. And I bet if he could he'd invite me to lunch in his own home and he'd never serve me bologna on white in a paper bag, either.

56 comments:

alejna said...

You really have a knack, jen, for putting together a wonderful story in such a small space. This was funny and moving and lots of other things.

And what a great guy to share his sandwich with you.

kgirl said...

I'm constantly amazed at how you allow yourself to get close to people, even for 5 minutes at a time. I wonder if it makes your job harder or easier to do?

mayberry said...

Oh Jen. How did you get so smart? You always know what to say.

Her Grace said...

You're filled with grace, and the uncanny ability to do the right thing. I need to take lessons.

kristen said...

dude. i adore you for all that you write and inspire. xoxo

thailandchani said...

It's great that you knew that giving is important as receiving. He probably felt so much better, being able to give something to someone else.

Balogna on white though. Ugh! :)


Peace,

~Chani
http://thailandgal.blogspot.com

Aliki2006 said...

This is such an amazing story, it really and truly touched me, the thought of this man sharing his lunch with you.

It made me think about all the times we say "I'm hungry" knowing we will eat soon, that we have the resources to do so.

mitzh said...

This made me teary-eyed.

You really have a way with everything and your heart always shines through.

painted maypole said...

Jen, I just love you. And I love Oscar, that he wanted to do something nice for you (and who wouldn't want to do something nice for YOU?)

Sober Briquette said...

I was sitting here with moist eyes for a moment before realizing that I just finished my bologna sandwich (on wheat). It feels a lot more satisfying now that I've shared it with you and Osc.

Julie Pippert said...

The second time in as many days I've heard a beautiful story about giving and getting in equal measures, making a lovely circle of the good side of humanity. Thanks for sharing.

Julie
Using My Words

jen said...

ah, thank you ladies, but just to clarify, o-s-c-a-r is me humming the oscar meyer song that i think of inevitably when i am confronted w/ bologna. a product of my childhood, indeed.

Blog Antagonist said...

You know...it sometimes seems that those with the least to give have the most generosity in their hearts. What an incredible thing that he offered you half his sandwich. I find myself very, very moved by that.

Tabba said...

i got goosebumps.

and this reminded me of something Ma Joad says in 'The Grapes of Wrath'..it was near the end of the book. I'll have to try to find the line.

at any rate, this whole exchange was simply beautiful.
the sweet,simple humanity of it.

Magi said...

What a moving story. Thank you.

Hetha said...

As soon as you wrote that he was waiting and asked if you were still hungry, I knew. I understand his need to be able to have something to offer to someone else. Such a human need it is, to be able to give. And so cool that you recognized it that moment and accepted the gift.

Beck said...

Oh, and now I'm crying.
Hoping that the nice old guy gets a good place of his own soon...

crazymumma said...

Man, I love the dignity you see in people. And the insight to understand that that above all else needs to be protectd.

And for this I love you.

flutter said...

Oh my god this just made me cry. What a sweet and considerate soul than man has and how good of you to let him be the gentleman that he obviously is.

Oh, jen.

ewe are here said...

He saved you half his sandwich.

What a kind, giving soul.

I think he recognized the same in you.

Janet said...

See? This is why you do your job. Because you handle a situation with dignity and grace, where many (myself included) would likely stutter and offend.

nomotherearth said...

You are blessed to see the good in people always. Oh how I admire you.

theflyingmum said...

Oh, this made me cry.
Irony, kindness, generosity: You are blessed, and a blessing.

Her Bad Mother said...

WOW. What a beautiful piece of perspective.

mom huebert said...

What a great way to redeem the situation. Good job. And thanks so much for sharing this.

Lawyer Mama said...

Now I'm humming the bologna song too.

Jen, I often don't know how you do what you do every day. But then I read one of your stories like this and I realize how you can. You see the worst of humanity, yes, but you also see the best.

The Expatriate Chef said...

I hope I never have to serve anyone bolongna on white, but there for the grace of ... I hope this man rises from his troubles, he has heart.

If you do make it by for dinner, someday, I'd sure give you the bigger half, too.

pgoodness said...

A lot of people would have straight out refused and taken away his dignity. Other people would never have followed him and offered to split it.

I'm so glad you're not a lot of other people, Jen. You are, in a word, awesome.

meno said...

It's so sweet of you to realize that accepting a gift from someone can be a powerful gift in itself.

Sandra said...

White on bologna ... it is such a symbol of much.

You are a gem my friend. You know what to say and do exactly as it should be. That man will remember your lunch date for so long.

If only there were a day when there were no need for shelters. I want a day that would see you out of business. I want it bad.

Wayfarer Scientista said...

Isn't it amazing how sometimes it is the people who have less who give more?

Denguy said...

That was a most excellent compromise. Good for you.

KC said...

What a beautiful moment that you created.

slackermommy said...

This has to be my favorite post ever! You handled the situation beautifully.

Kyla said...

You two, a matched pair of beautiful souls, sharing half a bologna sandwich. What a moment.

Amy York said...

What a sweet man...
Thank you for sharing that story!

Ally said...

Posts like this are why I check your blog with my morning cup of tea. What a great start to my day. I don't know how you are able to make me laugh and then cry with each post, but somehow you do. Thank you!

Karen Forest said...

Jen, I just love you.

How I wish I had an ounce of the wisdom and courage you have when helping others.

I get all balled up not knowing what to do at times, or how to react (granted, on a much smaller scale) and here you rise above and offer so much to others....even when it is in the form of taking.

Seattle Mamacita said...

such a touching simple gesture that he would save his sandwhich for you is beyond words

Anjali said...

That is just too beautiful. Tears majorly in my eyes.

cce said...

You jam so much goodness into each and every day.
You make me believe again that people are inherently good.

Bon said...

sweet merciful. that rocks. he rocks.

you? i just love, oh you with your respect for human dignity, oh you with your baloney breath.

Jen M. said...

You handled that beautifully. Can the shelter afford whole grain and chicken now and again? What a neat man.

ms chica said...

Excellent point about honoring someone's wishes. It can be the right thing to do.

bgirl said...

to call what you do "tougg" is an understatement. when i read a post like this that i would call what you do, fortunate. i have learned so much through your eyes, i can only imagine your experience first hand.

carrie said...

It just isn't fair.

Thank you for sharing that lunch with us, which was far better than what you were eating. And although you were sharing something that screamed "homeless food", I'll bet to him, and you, it tasted like a monte cristo for the company you were sharing.

Good work, friend.

slouching mom said...

This made me cry. His gesture, so damn perfect and BEAUTIFUL. Your response, so damn perfect and RIGHT. You have such quite the moral compass, lady.

(And...I kinda like bologna. Maybe because I wasn't allowed to have it as a child?)

Mrs. Chicky said...

The face of homelessness is dignified. I'm glad you remind me of that.

Amanda said...

Damn. Gripping as always.
I spent tonight at a benefit for FeetFirst, an organization dedicated to putting shoes on kids. I am so rarely confronted with the "excesses" I enjoy in my daily life. It's hard and sobering, but so crucial to keeping us on a path. Thanks for the reminders.

Whymommy said...

Yeah. Great point. Great post. I always find perspective in your words....

Family Adventure said...

What a lovely gesture from him! How amazingly generous from a man in his position. I am in awe.

Your reaction was perfect. Respectful and humane. Sad to say, you probably made his day!

Thanks for sharing this!
- Heidi

Ruth Dynamite said...

The people in that city of yours are blessed.

Susanne said...

Thank you for this story. And what a great man.

Brandi said...

What a sweet story. Thank you for sharing.

I found your blog from Blogamama.com.

Can't wait to read more!

Brandi

Jennifer said...

Oh, Jen.

I have the feeling I'm going to remember this story for a long time to come.

Momish said...

I can just see you there sharing that sandwich. As painful as it is overall considering the circumstances, I can't help but smile. You made that man's day for sure!