Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Service with a side of sobering

For the last three weeks, the youth group I volunteer with has been planning and putting together huge baskets of Thanksgiving food to give to people. The baskets ended up being incredible--huge turkeys, tons of food and treats. Literally, the baskets were overflowing. The kids got so into the project, writing recipe cards for some dishes that could be made from the ingredients and making festive cards to be put in the baskets. Last night was delivery night, which initially was a logistical nightmare but given our leader/youth ratio (nearly 3:1) we were able to create a workable schedule of delivery. Making the deliveries such as these is always fun but difficult; seeing other people's situations always tugs at my heart. But last night was really different. To start, after Google mapping our addresses, I realized that these homes were located in areas Jessica has previously warned me away from. (And while normally I do heed her advice pretty much 100% of the time, we felt compelled to complete the deliveries. But no, I do not plan to make a habit of this. I feel lucky that we were safe.) After getting lost (not a great moment, nearly resulted in a breakdown) in a neighborhood full of collapsed, moldering, Katrina-bruised houses, we found the address we were looking for. Wild cats were running all over the place, and several broken down cars sat abandoned in the dead-end road that served as the driveway. We were terrified. (Yes, there was a grown-up guy with us, but even he was nervous.) We surveyed from the car that someone was likely to be home, as there seemed to be some lamplight coming from the house. I called the phone number listed, but received no answer. We decided to make the delivery, and should no one answer the door, would leave the basket on the porch. Resolved, we marched quickly up to the door, and after a glance of hesitation between us, knocked on the door. A woman's terrified voice could be heard from the inside, "Benji, get back!" before her scared voice called out to us, "Who's there?" We answered that we were from the church and had a Thanksgiving delivery for her. She came to the door, and I was shocked to see that she was a young and pretty white woman. She looked incredibly relieved and said that no one ever came to her door, let alone at night, for anything but trouble. She asked who we were, and we explained that we had put together a basket of Thanksgiving food for her. She looked overjoyed and called out to her son to come look. An adorable 2 year old came peeking out from behind the door and was as happy about the basket of food as his mother. She thanked us profusely and then urged us to leave, warning us to be careful and wishing us safety. It wasn't until we were in the car that we realized that as we were rushing to safety, this woman and her son stayed and would continue to live in a broken down home in the neighborhood she only moments ago had warned us away from. We wondered what her life must be like and what her circumstances were. We may never know but I know that as we drove away from that home, my heart hurt leaving this woman and her child there. I know that none of the heartache and pain and fear I've experienced in my life comes close to what this woman must face on a daily basis. I know that I am incredibly blessed and so lucky.

Living in New Orleans has changed me. Down here, you see things like what I've described on a near-daily basis. And instead of becoming immune to it, you become more sensitive to it. You see firsthand the things that drive people to behave in ways you previously didn't understand. You see things that divide people from one another. You literally start to, perhaps not walk a mile in another's shoes, but at least stand in their shoes for a brief moment. And the world, taken from that perspective, is a different place.


KipKGolfmeister said...

That's a great description of what happened and your reaction to the nuances of the situation. Well done and well written.

Mari said...

May we always see with our eyes and hearts. So grateful for your kindness, thoughtfulness and willingness to go outside your comfort zone. (Please be careful.)