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Nov 23, 2007

Giving Before Receiving

. Nov 23, 2007
18 Whispers

Yesterday was Thanksgiving in my country. I try to be mindful of my blessings, but easily get caught up in the rush of life during the year. That's why I spend at least a few hours at a local food bank handing out free turkeys and trimmings. It makes me feel good and also reminds me that life is hard for many. I hear a lot of interesting comments at these events, but I see far more in the body language and expressions of those who come for help.

I was there quite early in the morning and so were at least 200 people lined up around the block. The surge of people was a bit scary when the doors opened, and staff reminded visitors to wait their turn. Any aggression was promised to be dealt with by two rather imposing security guards. Still, the hungry people pushed a little, anxious to get their share. It's this behavior from perhaps normally mild-mannered women and men that shows what desperation can do. One person after another held out there arms to receive the single or family meal boxes and quickly rushed out of the store. Some said thanks, others merely snatched the boxes and left.

About 30 minutes into my stay, I turned from the pantry to see an older Asian woman next in my line. She was so slight and so very dwarfed by those waiting behind her. She did not immediately approach the counter, instead looking at me while leaning slightly forward. A white woman bumped her shoulder from behind and said, 'Go!'. I motioned for her to step up and only then did she approach the counter. She walked quickly toward me and kept her eyes downward:

Me: Hi, happy Thanksgiving.
(The woman does not hold out her hands, instead she bows her head several times and clasps her hands together.)
Woman: I am saying to you thank you first. I am saying thank you for my family, very much. My husband is not coming here. He is ashame.
Me: That's okay, ma'am. You don't need to feel ashamed.
(Others in line become impatient and a few try to rush her on.)
Woman: (she turns to the others) Please, one moment. Please. You must not receive so easy. (Back to me) I want thank you and I want thank this country. I appreciate so much this country help us.
Me: You are very welcome and I hope you enjoy your dinner. You and your family.
Woman: Thank you, thank you young lady. I want give you this. I have pray on it for you.

The woman, so small, struggles with the large box for a moment, gets her bearings and walks away. Some watch her leave with curious looks. On the counter is a tiny white Buddha she left for me. Another person has already stepped up for his box.

Nov 20, 2007

Chicken, Dirty Feet and Assumptions

. Nov 20, 2007
7 Whispers

In the midst of Thanksgiving grocery shopping, I took a break at a favorite Mediterranean restaurant for lunch. The fragrant aroma of chicken marinated with cinnamon and other exotic spices hangs in the air. The place is casual, with self seating. After the staff brings your plate, you're left to yourself and the condiment bar. It's moderately crowded with a mix of ethnicities, but mostly white people munch their lunch. I sit at a small table on the periphery and settle in.

There is a middle-aged white couple to my left halfway through their whole chicken special. The table to my right is empty. A few seats down, sit two dark-skinned young men with black hair and big, deep brown eyes. They speak loudly in their native language, which sounds like Malay or a Southeast Asian dialect to me. They wave their hands around as they speak and laugh, enjoying lunch. Both rip into their chickens with their hands and teeth. They wear flip-flops and soon each has kicked them off. They sit with one bare foot resting on the other knee, exposing soles dark with dirt towards me. The couple on my left notices them, also:

Female: Ugh. Look at those two. They eat like pigs.
Male: Yeah. I wouldn't even sit like that at the table.
Female: You bet you wouldn't! Look at those dirty feet. Ugh. Do their wives just put up with it?
Male: Their wives got nothin' to say about it. They probably have to eat the leftovers alone in the kitchen!
Female: Bullshit! I'd never...just look at how they eat. They're so filthy.
Male: Dirty Arabs. I hope we blast 'em all.

The boys, lost in their conversation, suddenly erupt with laughter. One of them burps and they laugh harder. Other diners now stare at them, but they hardly notice.

Nov 5, 2007

No God

. Nov 5, 2007
26 Whispers

I took today off work and strolled on the pier for a while. The sun sparkled on the water and the wind was just brisk enough to remind me it's November in California. There were more people on the pier than I'd expected for a Monday afternoon. Many fished, standing in silence with their poles and staring at the green blue sea. Seagulls circled overhead, squawking and diving after fish guts thrown over the rails by men cleaning their catches.

In the middle of my reverie a male voice says, "Here you go, God bless you" as he hands me a small booklet. We exchange smiles and I thank him. He comments on my St. Jude medallion and asks me if I'm secure in my faith. I say I am. He wishes me well and moves on. He walks to a bench next to a fish sink not 10 feet away. A young man sits there with white iPod ear buds on. The middle-aged evangelist taps him on the shoulder:

Evangelist: Hey, hi. Here you go. God bless you.
Boy: What? (removes ear buds) What's this?
Evangelist: Hi, how you doing? Please read this, it's explains how you can know Jesus Christ personally. Do you have a relationship with the Lord?
Boy: What? Yeah, I have a relationship with the Lord. I hate him, alright? So take your damn papers and leave me the hell alone.
(The young man stands up and hurls the booklet over the railing. It flutters down to the sea)
Evangelist: I'm sorry you're angry. Maybe you can tell me about -
Boy: Maybe you can shut the hell up and leave me alone! There is no God, okay? Get over yourself. Frickin' loser.

The young man jams his ear buds back into his ears, slings a dark green messenger bag across his shoulders and walks off. The bag says "ARMY" on the flap. The evangelist sits down on the bench. A few people stare at him. He looks out to the sea for a moment and bows his head.

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