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Soup Crackers … How Close Are You To Being A Walking Wounded?

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Zodiac killer

“Hey!”

A grey, grizzled guy in a Kal Tire baseball cap got shoved backwards into the lineup of folks clad in their worn Salvation Army winter coats in front of the serving window.

I’m a naive kind of guy.

I looked up and directly over the 35’ish year-old woman’s shoulder that I had just handed a wax-paper bag containing an egg salad sandwich on multigrain bread.

At first I thought it was just a friendly greeting… a – “Hi, how are ya!”, until they began angrily shouting at each other.

I zipped out from behind the counter and stepped between the two “combatants”. I wasn’t going to be a hero or anything. “C’mon you guys, this isn’t the place or time.”  Did I look tough and menacing or what? NOT!!

The heated tension diffused quickly – more likely because they were afraid they’d be ejected before filling their empty bellies than because of my calming presence. My magic just ain’t that strong.

This is Lunch Time at my local soup kitchen.

Soup kitchen

11:30 to 12:30…. 365 days a year… Two or 3 soup choices, 4-6 sandwich varieties, sometimes a tossed green or potato salad, a wide choice of “stale-dated” desserts (cookies, pies, cake, muffins, jello), and lots of milk, juice and coffee to wash it all down.

And the price is right.

No charge, no questions asked. You wanna come for lunch, you’re welcome.

I wander in 2 or 3 mornings each month to chop all the vegetables needed for a “mirepoix”, the flavour base for most stews and soups: two parts onions, one part carrots, and one part celery.

And, depending on what’s been donated, sometimes we chop rutabagas or peppers or parsnips or cabbage or mushrooms to toss in the soup pots.

That’s a lot of chopped veggies when making enough soup to feed between 100 and 200, depending on the season, the time of the month, the temperature outdoors.

The angry “shover” in the “schoolyard” altercation – Paul – looks like a roly-poly grownup version of Charlie Brown – round head with a reflective sheen to his baldness, tiny pee-hole-in-the-snow-eyes.

I’ve come to know this fellow Paul from short interactions over the previous few months.

I know he’s a troubled guy, despite a usually calm, almost tender voice. A voice really quite soft for a man that likely approaches 250 or so pounds.

And when he speaks it’s with a Donald Trump-like lips-forced-outwards position as if he’s trying to blow kisses while he’s talking.

trump

And like Trump, he’s a guy with dark demons inside.

Paul asked if he could help at the soup kitchen on Christmas day because he didn’t want to be alone and he doesn’t like anyone in his family.

A couple of months back, Paul buttonholed me while I was “bussing” – clearing and cleaning tables after the soup and sandwich and desserts had been consumed by the daily flock.

He – out of nowhere – asked if I had read a book about, or heard of this guy – a serial killer known as the Zodiac Killer.

Ah…. nope …“. I continued to wipe down the table nonchalantly, fearfully worried he might be making a confession.

He continued on, “The Northern California based Zodiac Killer claims he murdered 37 people in the late 1960’s, although police have only confirmed 7. Two of them survived the attacks.”

With each passing word he spoke, his level of animation and fascination grew, his eyes took on a luster of excitement in the telling of his story, his knowledge, his fascination.

For 10 minutes he had me cornered, while he outlined the details of the nasty man and his nastier deeds, how the police had mismanaged the case and had never found the culprit.

I listened as my mind raced in circles to determine if talking about the serial killer was just an academic fascination, or … was there an internal excitement for him, maybe a sexual arousal, almost a desire to be him?

I’m not a trained therapist or student of the mind; I never know who the killer is ahead of time in TV police dramas – I’m just not that capable of reading people.

I don’t know the inner turmoils or traumas that have shaped and affected Paul’s life.

I know he has struggles, I know he feels inner pain from things that have happened.

I also know that every person, every man, every woman, passing in front of the service window where I hand out a sandwich and a bowl of steaming soup has an inner story, a personal struggle.

The folks I see at the soup kitchen are the “Walking Wounded”, the ones whose conflicts have left them too damaged to fully function in our world in a way we would describe as “normal”.

If we repaired their teeth, gave them a shower and some fresh clothing, most of those I encounter at the soup kitchen – at least those who aren’t meth addicts with pockmarked ravaged faces – outwardly, they could be “Us”, you or me.

In amongst our smiles and joys and cheerfulness, small, or sometimes large grey clouds float in and out of our days.

Humanity gives no person, no matter how rich, no matter how famous, no matter how talented, a free pass on troubles.

Really?

Yup. All of us are “Walking Wounded” …

It comes down to degrees.

It comes down to circumstances, strength, attitude and probably the resilience within our genetics.

I was lucky to be born in the 20th Century. I was lucky to be born in affluent North America. I was lucky to be raised within a loving family.

It’s a sunny day in my mind knowing that I’m the one standing on the serving side of the soup kitchen counter.

And it’s REALLY sunny if, after a morning of peeling, dicing and chopping big bags of carrots and onions and celery, I can walk out the Soupateria door … and … because I’m a numbers guy, still count to 8 … oops, sorry … 10 on my fingers.

finger-slice

 

The Small Heart of an Altruist That Grew Three Sizes …

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begging

I was out on the streets begging last night.

Yup. It’s true.

I stood on a cold and breezy Summerland street corner – occasional light snowflakes dancing in the air – with a little cardboard box to collect coins and bills from curious passersby and gawkers. I didn’t sing or play my guitar for the money, I just stood there. And stood there. And stood there.

Oh alright … now for the rest of the story.

I was dressed as MR. GRINCH for the Annual Summerland Christmas Light-Up Celebration.

A pillowy blend of stars and cloud and a gold-hued half moon painted the sky overhead as I stood on a raised pedestal as a silent, unmoving Grinch statue. When someone put a coin or bill in my donation box, I’d shift positions – very slowly –  then wink, shake hands or give a high five to the donor before settling back into my solid, stolid statue pose.

It’s pretty much the most fun you can have with clothes on; listening to people talk around and about you as if you weren’t there. Talk about being a proverbial fly on the wall.

Wee little “Cindy Lou Who” tykes touched and poked me, teenagers waved their gloved hands and steaming, fragrant mini-donuts in front of my green Grinch nose, and the now ubiquitous iPhone camera was hauled out over and over and over so photos could be taken with the Grinch.

For a mean, smelly guy with termites in his teeth, I was amazingly popular!

And the really good news is that all of that money dropped in the donation box will now be split and go to the local soup kitchen and the SPCA.

IMG_5231

The second part of this story is that I also spent two mornings this week helping at the Soupateria, a local soup kitchen for those in need of a hot meal.

I chopped carrots and onions and cabbage for Beef Barley soup. I mixed egg salad for sandwiches. I cut and plated blueberry and apple pie. I cleared and washed tables as the polite folks finished their lunches.

And that makes this week very unusual for me because I gave more – more time, more energy, more help – of myself than I normally do.

And in the end, like a true Grinch, I found myself with a larger heart and a warm, fuzzy feeling that tells me pretty clearly who really got the better end of the stick in all of this.

This probably sounds like I’m bragging, and OK, perhaps I am, but really, the message I want you to hear is that I’m not normally a very giving person. I know I have a fine quality or two, but I don’t believe that selfless is one that would be written on my epitaph.

Handsome, yes. Charming, yes. Scintillating sense of humour, yes. Selfless, NO.

When it comes to the act of giving, most of my compassionate contributions have come through cash donations… a regular monthly withdrawal from my bank account to PLAN Canada and UNICEF, and the occasional dollar or two dropped into plump, red Salvation Army kettles and Air Cadet Poppy boxes near Remembrance Day.

Don’t stone me for it, ’cause this isn’t bad at all.

But it is easy.

For me this week, truly easy was out. There was a modicum of forfeiture involved. I was a little chilled doing my statue gig, and I used some precious time that could have been joyously expended on a massage table, pouring over annual reports, or playing a casino slot machine, but really, this cost me next to nothing.

I wish I was more altruistic … you know, a giving person who is always there to help … that guy who helps old ladies cross the street, picks up every chilled hitchhiker huddling at the side of a highway, or makes hot casseroles to pass along to a family struggling with health concerns.

Altruism

I know others who are always there give a hand no matter the situation or time, or the sacrifice it takes for them to assist. True Mother Theresa types.

Because I’ve won the lottery of being born to a 20th century middle-class family in a very wealthy part of the world, I have to continually remind myself of the fabulous stuff that has just dropped in my lap.

I’ve been given a huge head start on millions of others who have to scrabble and scrape just to get to the white start line of the race where I’ve been given an enormous 800-metre advantage. The starter pistol fires and I’ve practically won the race already.

But most times, I have to consciously recognize my good fortune and health and direct some of my time and energy towards making more of an effort to be a good human being, even if I don’t personally feel the motivating push of a greater power in order to do that.

I think of it as just plain common sense. The same common sense that says I can stop at a red light in the middle of the night, and seeing no cars (especially the kind with flashing lights on the top) in any direction, hit the accelerator – sans squealing tires – and be on my merry way.

I suspect you probably figured out this whole altruism thing years before I ever came to the realization.

As Father Time marches along, I suspect I’ll never become Mother Theresa.

I doubt I’m re-writing my epitaph.

But maybe I can carve out a few moments now and again to hanging out on a chilly street corner “begging” so that others might not have to.

I’m liking this slightly-more-altruistic side of myself.

Oh The Whomanity!! I feel less GRINCH-y already.

Who-Manity