Mercy, Mercy

11/21/11

I lived for a few years in the strong-hold of the Bible Belt and left without a smidgen of consequence.  

An invitation brought me to a large room filled with folding chairs.   On signal, they circled the wagons, asked us to bear witness and cried “Brothers and Sisters!”   I felt an overwhelming need to flee.   I wondered how they could be so familiar while so distant, leaned as far back in my chair as I could and said nothing.

It was a cold day in November, the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  When we were done at the church, we drove together through neighborhoods where children were playing toward an urban hub that was quiet on a Sunday afternoon.  We stopped at a large rambling dwelling that in its prime might have housed the growing family of a banker or lawyer.  As far as I could tell, it was home to no one now, save a litter of kittens lying in a hollow under a bush by the front step.  Its human occupants were temporary. 

It was not my cup of tea, this sort of thing, and I still hoped to escape.   I had been persuaded to join my colleague from work who persistently pushed me to visit her church.  I, not being big on organized religion or mega-churches, resisted as long as I could before giving in and saying yes to get her off my back.   It just so happened that I agreed to go on the day the church produced its annual Thanksgiving dinner in one of the toughest areas of the city.  

I was trapped.  I was trapped next to a man on my left who had a broken arm and an eye puffed black with a tinge of green.   I was trapped next to the elderly woman on my right, who, I remember, had very bright red hair and lots of eyeliner.   I was overdressed for the occasion.   I felt mostly uncomfortable, with a bit of sadness and compassion mixed in. 

I said very little but there was more than enough talk to go around.  I listened and heard about the troubles that got them there, the breaks they didn’t have, the bad twists of fate and the tough times that followed.  Everyone seemed very hungry and very tired.   It was a gathering of the poorest of the poor, the collective misfits, the lost and the worn out.   I heard their stories and when it was over, I wrote a check. 

The folks I met that day remind me of the tree that my father cut down this fall.  It had grown unruly and too large and had become an eyesore.   There are people who struggle to grow where they are planted and have a tough time putting down strong roots.  They are problematic and are not pretty to look at.  They are a blot on the landscape.  We look the other way, but they are there.  And, but for the grace of God, go we. 

I never returned to the church of my friend again.  If their ultimate purpose was to change me, however, there were consequences of a sort.   I, who had become immune to the poor and weary, changed course.   I quit looking the other way and have since been humbled many times by people who were down on their luck or just plain suffering.  It is true that after the rain the sun shines brighter.  Even in places where it rains most of the time, a glimpse of sunlight is brilliant.   I didn’t always know this. 

Soon, I am going home.  I have not lived there for more than 30 years but I still call it home.  It is a day’s drive, easier than flying at this time of year, even if the route is wearisome.   My car will head east over browning prairie and flat land till it arrives on the far end of the next state over.   I make my way once a year to the place where we gather to laugh and eat and drink and reconnect and to notice that there is no longer a kid’s table now that the next generation has been launched and to ponder how that could have happened so quickly.

How good it is to know and understand that having a place to still call home is not a given, but something to recognize as a gift.   And, for that, I am immensely thankful.   

 

49 thoughts on “Mercy, Mercy

  1. Like you I am lucky to have a place that I can call home. Mom is alive but has slowed due to time. Brothers/sisters and their families find time to all break bread as one family. I am truly thankful for all I have in my life. Rich

  2. I guess that day was meant to happen. It made an impression and changed you in a positive way. Isn’t it weird how that happens in the most unlikely ways? When you are most resistant. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family.

  3. C. S. Lewis said, “”You and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness.”
    You were awakened …changed…forever. Welcome home.

  4. Winsome Bella, how very clever the title of your post to suit both its themes: The same spelling, different pronouncation. ‘Mercy’ – pleading for compassion, ‘Mercy’ a simple thank you.

    U

  5. “How good it is to know and understand that having a place to still call home is not a given but something to recognize as a gift.”

    Winsomebella – this is a wonderful post. My mother was always “home” for me, regardless of where she lived. When she died, I realized that she’d passed the torch. I am now “home” for my son, regardless of where I live.

  6. I was scared off religion at a very early age due to ‘meetings’ like that. My grandfather was a Southern Baptist minister and everything about it seemed to run counter to my internal compass, even at 5 years old.

    But, it sometimes takes extraneous measures to awaken our inner core to those less fortunate. This year particularly it seems dire for so many more than usual. May we all keep our hearts open and share with those less fortunate.

    Have a wonderful holiday!
    b

  7. It’s experiences like you had that shape us, sometimes in big ways, more often in subtle ways. It’s only when we later recollect them that we understand exactly how.

    Nice story to share on the upcoming occasion of giving thanks. Wishing you a wonderful and safe trip “home.”

  8. A well worth while experience. It also teaches us that scores of people are not lazy and trying to get a free lunch. They are downtrodden in so many ways and for the most part are disabled from doing much about it.

  9. What a beautiful post Winsomebella. It truly is. You are a gem! Home is so important; it gives security to one’s soul. Especially when there is happiness and love within the home. We can travel all over the globe, but our hearts will always be happiest and at peace at our home.

  10. Have a safe trip home, and a wonderful Thanksgiving!
    I have a friend who became one of the misfits – an alcoholic. His family finally turned their backs on him when he continually chose the bottle over their welfare. I expect there are many unfortunates who have a family who still cares, but are unwilling to let their lives be torn down time and time again.

  11. Going to be any where near Emporia to visit a cuz? I am grateful, I am grateful, I am grateful and I would love to see you!

  12. Beautiful reflections. I am much the same way.
    Happy 80th Birthday to your Mom, from another new friend in the blogosphere.
    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

  13. I have thought about these things more than usual around Thanksgiving, too–I suppose it’s natural that a period of particular gratitude for the surfeit of blessings makes me more intensely aware of those who lack any. And yes, we all find need off-putting, to say the least. Sometimes it’s the neediness of people importuning us to enter the world where they feel best and we feel least comfortable (somebody else’s idea of a perfect spiritual environment), and sometimes the more obvious neediness of the homeless and hungry and marginalized. I guess we’re all needy at some level and that’s why it frightens us so. You touched both of those kinds of need in one go, and came through it made more thoughtful. The most anyone can ask. Your compassion was already there–it was your bravery to accept the weight of it that was awakened. Thank you for sharing that strength with us here.

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