Mercy Me! I've got work to do.

Mercy Me — I've got work to do! making the world a better place – starting with me.

Timeless Trends

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It was the Saturday before my 40th birthday, and like most Saturdays I started my day by running with my girlfriend.

Our run was per usual.  We started in the same place, ran the same distance, talked about the same things and finished in the same spot.

While the spot we finished was the same, the ending was different.   It marked the beginning of my effort to complete works of mercy. Of course I didn’t know that then, officially, it was still a week before my launch date.

I live in San Marco, one block from the shopping square.  San Marco has always been my favorite neighborhood in Jacksonville.  It is where I got my first kiss, and where I discovered how yummy it was to dip French fries in ranch dressing.  It is also where I spent part of my first real paycheck on a lamp from the Wardroom.  (Almost 20 years later, I still love that lamp.)  It was also in San Marco where I started dating an old high school friend whom eventually I married.

I could go on and on about all the milestones of my life that happened in San Marco.  However, I feel like the fact that I live without a laundry room, bonus room or a proper-sized walk-in closet speaks for my commitment and love for the neighborhood.

When we ended our run in our usual spot, I was lamenting that I wouldn’t be doing much clothes shopping any time soon.  Not because I was giving all my money to complete works of mercy, but because I hated the new fashion trends I had seen.

They reminded me of the eighties, and while I have yet to tire from the music of that era, I did not want to dress like Ally Sheedy did in the movie Breakfast Club before she got kissed by the hunky Emilio Estevez.  After that kiss, she probably ended up washing her hair and dressing more like Molly Ringwald.  (I would have.)

No, I am not doing shoulder pads again.  While my body is far from perfect, I am not interested in hiding what’s left of my shape behind boxy sweaters and long skirts.  I have a feeling that day will come soon enough.  No need to rush.

So we window shopped these new trends en route back to my house.  While discussing what was reasonable to wear from the store displays, (and firmly agreeing on the fact that black and gold lame would never be reasonable to wear) we went from looking at hopeless fashions to looking at a homeless man.

Of course he wasn’t in a store window, but rather displayed on the ground laying in front of one of the unopened stores like some sort of iPhone junkie waiting for his latest fix.

My senses were overwhelmed upon seeing him.  By sight he was a black man in dirty clothes with very few teeth.  By smell, he had not showered in a long time , and I noticed I had stopped my intake of air to prevent inhaling any more of his rank stench.  By sound, he had spoken to us and yet I couldn’t make out any of his words.  Not one.

We didn’t break stride.  We politely said hello and left him on the sidewalk.  I didn’t have any money on me and certainly no food.  It was easy to believe I had no choice but to continue on.  Besides, even though it was my celebratory pre-birthday week, technically, my works of mercy had not started yet.  I was still 39.  If he was just a week later, I could help him.

But his need was now and while I didn’t know exactly what his needs were, I couldn’t deny that they seemed rather basic.  I also thought about how our call to serve has nothing to do with self-imposed schedules, nor does it have anything to do with how prepared we are physically or mentally for the challenge.  Our call to serve others really comes down to a simple willingness.  Are we willing?

I couldn’t ignore such an obvious need, although I clearly did not feel mentally prepared to do it – not to mention the fact that I had not even had my coffee yet.

When I got home, I started packing a small shopping bag with sundry food staples- graham crackers, club crackers, M&M’s, nuts, and the hardest from which to part – a jar of peanut butter.

I love peanut butter, and eat it every day.  I recently decided if I ever get diagnosed with a terminal illness I am going to eat an entire jar of peanut butter.  I guess it’s one of those bucket-list items that I have not given myself permission to do because of the high calorie content of my obsession, and my desire to not look like the 40-year old woman I have become.

My boys know what to get me for my birthday ~ unfortunately they also know where I keep it!

It also occurred to me that food allergies, like floral prints, are very much in vogue.  What do you do if you are homeless and hungry and someone gives you peanut butter — or gluten?  Or, what if it’s a double whammy and the peanut butter has gluten in it?

Certainly the homeless don’t have access to an EpiPen.  I guess when you are hungry you don’t get to have food allergies or food preferences.  You’re probably just looking for any sustenance to fill a dull and painful ache.

While I hoped he liked peanut butter as much as I did, I searched for a plastic butter knife to include in the bag.  I was getting frustrated because while I had an array of disposable spoons and forks, I didn’t have a single plastic butter knife.

I thought about how ridiculous I was being– thinking like someone who had the luxury of spreading my peanut butter with a knife, with my bread on a plate, with a napkin to keep me tidy and a drink to keep it from getting stuck in my throat.  The homeless don’t get these luxuries.  So, while I threw a plastic spoon in the bag, accepting it was the best I could do, I realized what are needs to me are actually luxuries to others.  I grabbed a $10 bill to complete my offering and appease any lingering worry I had about potential food allergies, and I hurried out the door.

I got in my car, my thoughts racing in every direction.  What would I say?  Would I somehow be insulting him?  What would he say to me?  What if he yelled at me?  Oh God, what if he tried to hug me?  I hate hugs — even by people who aren’t smelly.  What if he wasn’t there?  What if I was too late?  What if one of the San Marco business owners scolded me for pandering to bums in the upscale shopping square?  What if by giving him food and a little money, I was encouraging him and all his homeless friends to hang out in my beautiful historic neighborhood?  He did have friends, didn’t he?

I didn’t know one answer to any of those questions. But as I turned into the square the questions abruptly stopped, and I was filled with just a tiny bit of hope.  Hope that he wouldn’t be there– that I wouldn’t have to learn the answers to all those questions.

It turns out he wasn’t there.  He was gone.  I was ashamed at my relief.

I did drive around the small shopping district looking for him, but I couldn’t find him.  I am not sure where he went or what God’s intention was for that experience.  Perhaps it was to show me how hard this was going to be and how ill-prepared I feel to complete this ministry.   Or perhaps it was to strengthen my resolve that despite the fact that I may not know any of the answers to the questions that will inevitably a rise, I am committed to do this work anyway.

And while the experience felt as anti-climatic as seeing what is supposed to be the latest fashion trends simply recycled from a previous decade, it still reminded me that the kind of work I intend to do doesn’t go out of style like parachute pants.  It is timeless — and for a woman who is not, that feels like it could be the best birthday present ever.

The birthday girl at the spa on her big day — mercy me!

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Author: Lara Patangan

Mercy me, I’ve got work to do… is a blog I started on my 40th birthday to chronicle my experiences spending the year doing corporal and spiritual works of mercy. No longer on the cusp of a new decade, I am still here finding that much work remains – in the world, my community, my relationship with God and perhaps most challenging, within myself. Please sign up and join me as we share the work that matters most – being better people. In hopes that when the decades cease to pass the world will still whisper of the graces left in our wake.

19 thoughts on “Timeless Trends

  1. Weeping. No really, tears are streaming down my neck. You are amazing Lara.

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  2. No walk in closest? No laundry room?

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  3. Welcome to the Blog world!! 🙂 Happy Belated Birthday!! Can’t wait to read your future blog posts 🙂

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  4. I am contributing a dozen or so thermoses to your cause.

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  5. Loving your blogs, Lara , as I knew I would! Enjoy your journey- thanks for sharing it!

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  6. Great blog, Lara. Breakfast Club is probably one of my favorite movies mainly because it was when I was a senior in high school, but when you look back at the meaning behind it, it has a great message about the different backgrounds we all come from. The homeless man certainly falls into this category of that uncomfortable nature we feel when we try to relate to someone from a different backround. We have to plow through those feelings to find that common ground. Keep up the great work. BTW, I LOVE hugs, so don’t be surprised if you get a big one from me next time I see you. 🙂

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  7. Hi Lara! Happy belated birthday! Welcome to THE decade. How did we get here?! Personally I am enjoying the wisdom but not the age. I have enjoyed reading your blog. Writing has always been your gift. I will pray for you on this journey and am excited to see where it takes you.

    My suggestion would be when appropriate, invite the boys to join you. Waking my son up at 3 AM to feed breakfast to 500 homeless men or taking my daughter to fill packbacks for children her age so they can have food for the weekends has been not only humbling for all of us but a wonderful bonding experience as well. Mark and I have been enriched, inspired, and awe-struck with the conversations the experiences have lead us to, and it has brought a deeper reflection during family prayers. The hope is to give them experiences that will help mold them to be the hands and feet of Jesus as mature Christians. Kids truly learn by example more than words so be proud of what you will teach them on your journey. Share it with them.

    Blessings,

    Debbie

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    • Debbie-

      So great hearing from you, and thank you so much for all the kind words. I agree about involving our children. I think it makes a huge impact on them. They have all been very supportive of this. I think since I have a “website,” I even am a tiny bit cooler to my soon to be 11 year old! You know how huge that is?! Please keep sharing. I think we can all learn so much from each other and the kinds of things we have done. I am trying to work on making the site more interactive for that reason — but the technology of it all has been the most challenging part. Tell Mark I said hi — and come visit me and Helena!!

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  8. I didnt know you did all that after our run. Even though you couldnt find him, that was nice of you to do. It still should count as an act of mercy. You will have another opportunity to help someone like that.

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    • I didn’t know I was going to do it either, but felt like really am I not going to try and do something just because I am still 39?! It truly it was a wake up call to me about how hard this would be and how I really don’t know what the heck I am doing!

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  9. Lara,
    Wonderful entry !! It brought tears to my eyes as well. You are inspiring so many….and making us laugh (and cry) along the way !

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  10. You are using your milestone to change not only your life, but also to make a huge impact on others. Inspiring and so tender! …please continue

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  11. Lara, you are going to laugh but your post inspired me this morning. I was walking into Publix to pick up something for lunch (while looking at my smart phone, of course). A man asked me for some change which I never have since I use a card for everything. I also don’t like to give money; I’d rather give food. So I bought him a loaf of bread and a package of lunch meat but I tell ya, I walked around for awhile trying figure out what God wanted me to do. When i walked out, he was gone, just like in your story. But I’m still glad I did it. Thanks for the inspiration!

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    • Helen- Thanks for sharing that. I think the more open we become to it the easier it will get. I am still to slow in my reaction time. Thinking over every detail. And ultimately every situation is going to be unique. Someone called me yesterday and shared the funniest story of a homeless man that asked for her take out food. She gave it to him and then he tried to hug her — then kiss her! I would have died but I think its just as likely that someone will curse us out. I don’t think we can ever no the reaction we will get. But you had the willingness and that is inspiring!!

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  12. Lara – I am just catching up on your blog and this entry made me laugh and cry. I forgot how much I loved your writing…thinking back to all the notes from our younger days. Good luck on this journey and thank you for sharing.
    XOXO
    Kel

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