drone

… toodle quietly down early morning Martin Street of Penticton.

To an overhead drone, they would appear as small ants searching out scraps of food to return to the nest.

Mary is well in front, treading swiftly in her motorized scooter chair; a pair of worn teddy bears bob like crazy marionettes attached to the back of her seat as she breaks her mother’s back running over sidewalk cracks.

Her beady grey eyes are focussed on the walkway and the direction of travel.

White tangles of unkempt hair, untouched by a brush or comb this morning, catch errant whiffs of air movement like little fireworks going off in all directions. The studied concentration on her face leaves you with an impression of a pilgrimage.

They enter and emerge from long, dark shadows pasted across the quiet road by Ponderosa Pine and Norway Maple scattered along their route, doors opening and closing.

The air is fresh and applesauce delicious this early in the day before the dry Okanagan heat settles into town by 10 am. Light chirps of flickers and chickadees sift downwards from the branches above.

Rotund Joe slowly plods, like a proud Clydesdale workhorse, well behind Mary. His right hand behind his back grasps the handle of a child’s plastic wagon filled with sundry items that are incongruous with daily life … thrift store ingredients that may or not make it to the shelves.

Mary and Joe are no Okanagan Casabella Princess and Prince. Almost comic book-like, standing next to each other they look like the fruit-shaped salt and pepper shakers gift we received many years ago.

apple salt

Joe – the salt – is a round, red apple with a warm but mischievous grin… plump and elf’ish jolly.

Mary is the matching pepper shaker, not narrow or small on the top but definitely fanning out pear-like below her waist. She sports a narrow pinched mouth that accordions wide open when she smiles; a smile that comes often and readily.

I shudder when I see the state of their clothing, the ripped track pants, untucked stained shirts and polyester jackets that the Salvation Army wouldn’t deem acceptable to sell. Ketchup stains on two year-olds are kind of cute but on 70 year-olds it’s just kinda sad.

I don’t know where they live, this sweet couple.

I don’t know where their morning journey began.

I don’t know where or when they met.

Children? I suspect not, but I haven’t a clue.

I’ve seen their daily show played out on many many occasions as I’ve driven to my volunteer job at the local soup kitchen, and even at other times while just going about some chore of my own in town.

They arrive early to the front entryway of the Soupateria and sit on the wooden benches outside, chatting to themselves and other regular stragglers whose main social appointment of the day begins and ends right here.

soupateria

There are so many troubled souls that come through the doors of the soup kitchen – all ages, all shapes and colours, all genders – it can be heartbreaking to observe and think of the stories that led to the moment at hand.

Lately, I’m finding the crop of soup kitchen users are a strangely crabby lot compared to those of the past 2 years I’ve worked there. I’ve been checking the night sky more than usual for full moon phenomenon but to no avail.

What I really love about Mary and Joe is that no matter the traumas or tragedies they’ve lived – I’m certain there have been many breakages – they treat me and everyone they encounter like a long lost friend.

A friendly, gentle warmth exudes from their inner souls.

Any exchange with these two and you’re almost certain to walk away with a smile in your heart. Kindness sloughs from them like the dust off Charlie Brown’s buddy Pig Pen.

Each day when they reach the front of the line at the serving window of the Soupateria, through his stubbly grey beard, the first question Joe asks of the volunteer behind the counter is,

And how are you today?

I’ll look over and it’s like bright sunshine emerging from foreboding clouds.

It’s not an empty courtesy to hear him say this.

He enunciates the word YOU like no one else matters in the whole world. Then he listens carefully for the response.

After the friendly exchange, he chirps, “I’ll have egg salad on brown today please!”

A few minutes later without fail, Mary, at the end of her soup and sandwich lunch, always shuffles gingerly to the serving window and in her muffled, child-like voice, calls out a cheery thanks to the volunteers behind the counter.

I smile thinking of the holy irony of their names and then seeing Mary in deep focus, mounted on a small scooter on her diurnal sacred journey to Bethlehem.

Mary and Joe are pitifully stunted and incomplete by most of our societal measurements and yet… I see them as superheroes.

I don’t like the Silver Screen superheroes so much, the Batmans, the Supermans, the Wonder Womans and so on. Give me Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan and a Rom-Com any day.

The superheroes I prefer, the ones I truly admire, quietly walk the backstreets of our world, not striving to save humanity but somehow, in their inimitable way, giving others an uplift without even trying.

They’re the ones in anonymous costumes, no flowing capes, no stretch lycra bodysuits: the Marys and Joes on the street, the Chris and Lauraines in the soup kitchen, the Davids and Patricks in the Greek Restaurants, the Ricardos and Arturos who patiently, humorously teach me Spanish… all those who give freely without expectation of wealth or fame or even a pat on the back.

Because we spend so much time living in the illusions and challenges of our own lives we forget, often not noticing the beauty and strength of others we encounter day-to-day.

Mary and Joseph? Simple, plain folk.

They’re out there with gentle smiles, filling the loneliness of their’s and other’s lives… one another’s peaceful, green oasis in the desert where the horizon is limitless and sometimes painful.

Always with a smile…

superhero pee

SUPERHEROES really ARE just like the rest of us…

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