By the time I finished my last errand of the evening today, it was dark and raining. I came out of the grocery store squinting against the rain and fog and bright headlights that crawled across the parking lot. The man standing just outside the doors nodded and smiled at me. He was bundled up snugly against the cold: cap pulled low on his forehead, coat zipped up to his chin, thick gloves on hands that steadily rang the bell for whichever local charity he was representing, perhaps the Salvation Army. My gaze flicked away. I slowed down indecisively a couple feet away, pretended to ignore him, and tried to remember my parking spot. I realized that if I made a dash for it, I could be at my car in no more than three seconds. In spite of the rain pounding down on my head, I threw another cursory glance in the man’s direction. He looked back at me, watching me steadily as I hesitated. I thought of the sixty dollars worth of groceries in my shopping cart, the new shirt I had just bought myself and which I may wear tomorrow, the hot dinner waiting for me at home, and I was ashamed at myself for being so tempted to walk away, as I have so many times before. In exactly three seconds, I could be at my car. In exactly four minutes, I could be home…
“You sure picked a crazy evening for this,” I said, trying to maintain a hold on my shopping cart. “So much rain!”
He shrugged, grinning affably. “Can’t let a little bit of rain hold us back, you know.”
I tried to dig my wallet out of my bag, but I needed both hands, and my shopping cart was rolling away. “You gotta do what you gotta do,” I said absently, hooking my foot around the bottom of the cart.
He nodded, laughing. “You gotta do what you gotta do,” he agreed, and came over, holding onto my cart while I found my wallet and dropped the bills into the kettle.
You gotta do what you gotta do.
Sometimes, I wish I knew what I’m supposed to be doing. Or, even better, I wish that I were doing more, even if meant just standing outside in the rain and ringing a bell for some charity while holiday shoppers looked right through me. Sometimes, it's so easy to distance oneself from the front lines of human need.
"I believe that serving the best ends of humanity means getting out in the middle of it just as it is, not staying home writing checks and thinking hopeful thoughts. The world does not need tourists who ride by in a bus clicking their tongues. The world as it is needs those who will love it enough to change it, with what they have, where they are. And you're damned right that's idealistic. No apology. When idealism goes in the trash as junk mail, we're finished.Meanwhile, the Zaytuna Conference is tomorrow. Just the kind of focus I need.
"In way one or another, I'm going back to kettle duty on the streets this year - literally or in some equivalent task... I will have to stand still for a while and see the world as it goes by. As I have gone by. It will give me a chance to listen for the far-off sound of a bell rung by a child in front of the Woolworth's store in Waco, Texas, one winter's eve. To imagine my father standing beside me. To see his face. To hear the bell of another kid clanging away in the rainy Seattle night. To see his face. And to turn and look at the window glass in the storefront behind me and see my own reflection. If you see me, put something in the kettle. Be generous. I'd hate to have to hit you with the tambourine."
- Robert Fulghum
Uh-Oh: Some Observations from Both Sides of the Refrigerator Door
Labels: Conversations and Encounters