It Wasn’t My Finest Moment

“It wasn’t my finest moment,” I told the kids. Juan and Crystel were eating at our kitchen island.

Juan looked up briefly. “I was thinking about that,” he said.

Crystel just smiled. She likes a faulty mother.

Jody was gone for the weekend.

Our family volunteers at Loaves and Fishes at Wood Lake Lutheran church once month. Loaves and Fishes is a free meal program that has served those in need across Minnesota since 1981. We’ve been volunteering once a month for three years. “It’s our church,” I tell the kids. For various reasons, we haven’t found a traditional home church. “Church is about giving and receiving, and this is what our family does,” I further explained.

The evening before was our ‘church’ night. When we arrived to volunteer, I was disheartened to see that the cook had changed. I don’t know why that would surprise me. It’s less turnover then I have at work. This would have only been the third cook in three years. That’s not so bad. I just wasn’t ready for it. The cook is a non-profit hired chef. The chef plans menus, orders food and manages the volunteers, who sign up online as I did.

Juan, Crystel, and I put on our aprons and hairnets. I asked the twenty-something cook what he’d like us to do.

Juan turned to me and said, “What did he say?”

“We are going to serve coffee.”

His eyes lit up. “All three of us?” His voice was full of hope.

The last time we were at ‘church’, I let Juan skip out and go home to finish a homework assignment. Wood Lake Lutheran Church is only three blocks from our home. There was plenty of volunteers and he wasn’t being particularly helpful that evening. Tonight, I had told them before we arrived that if anyone left early, this time it would be Crystel. It was her turn. That was my mistake. Allowing Juan and Crystel to leave early. After all, this was church. We were here for the sermon.

Most times there is a shortage of volunteers and there isn’t even a question of leaving early. Everyone has a job. Everyone is needed. I often had pointed this out to Juan and Crystel, “What if we wouldn’t have come tonight? Who would have helped with dishes? Or served? Or cleaned up?”

Juan knew what it meant if three of us were going to serve coffee.

“You know,” he started. “I know it’s Crystel’s turn to leave early and I’m okay with that. But maybe, just maybe, you could serve coffee by yourself?”

“We’ll see,” I said.

A finer moment.

There were five servers on the line and one person in back to wash dishes. I left Juan and Crystel to serve coffee while I went in back to dry dishes. After a flood of people went through the line to be served, I came back to check on Juan and Crystel.

Crystel raised her eyebrows. “Just wait,” I said. “I’m going to have something to eat and we’ll see.”

I regarded the five volunteers on the serving line standing with a utensil in hand or using the counter as support. I got my tray and sat down.

“Okay, Crystel,” I said. “You can leave.”

She jumped up and was gone.

“What about me?” Juan asked. “Look, they’re not doing anything.” He nodded to the servers.

I had already noticed them and it was starting to irritate me. The young people on the line were probably fulfilling a service learning requirement for college. They weren’t real volunteers … like us. They needed to be here. They were getting something out of it.

“Go ahead.”

From where I sat, I watched the clean dishes pile up because there wasn’t anyone drying and putting away. I served the occasional person who wanted coffee, milk, or water. The pile of dishes continued to grow. It occurred to me that if I wouldn’t have let Juan and Crystel leave that I could have been back there helping. Now I was bound to my station.

When I got home, I startled the children. They looked at the time.

“You’re done early?” They both said at once.

“No. I left.”


“I left.” Even as I said it, I was wondering, who does that? Who leaves a job they volunteered for just because they got mad that people weren’t helping? If you’re a volunteer, aren’t you a volunteer because you love giving back? Because you love to be of service?

“Volunteers were just standing there, and dishes were piling up in back and I decided that I wasn’t going to dry them. I just left.”

Juan and Crystel didn’t say anything.

It took me twenty-four hours, but I realized that we had gotten away from the message, the spirit of volunteering, of giving back.

“Guys, no one goes home early anymore. No matter how many volunteers come,” I said. “It’s what it is. It’s our church.”


Going to the Dogs: On being a Decoy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve done some crazy stuff before but volunteering as a decoy for police dogs ranks close to the top. At first, as with most new adventures the idea of being a decoy was thrilling. I was very aware of the nearing day, checking my calendar, reading the email over and over, making sure that I had the right time and the proper clothing. Long sleeve shirt, pants, boots.

My impetus for being a decoy was simply that I had never done it before and it sounded exciting. How often are you given the opportunity to be dog bait? Exactly. Within a minute of seeing the text asking for volunteers I responded with a firm, “Yes”. Apparently, no one else had this strong feeling because I was the only volunteer from our police reserve unit.

Sometimes when you really want something and you also don’t really want the same thing it doesn’t happen. I half expected this training event to be cancelled.

It wasn’t.

And sometimes you try to imagine what this new adventure will look like.

Visions of running across a field of flowers with a dog, maybe a Labrador, bounding after me and then taking a gentle leap pulling me to the ground was my image.

Ignorance is bliss fits right in here.

Reality was a vacant building, darkness, and me lying on a floor in the corner of an empty room with a sheet of black plastic covering me.

There would be numerous police dogs with a K-9 police officer attempting to locate me, one by one. When does numerous become many? Let’s say when the count is over five. There would be many police dogs, each with their own K-9 police officer taking turns locating me one by one.

Aloneness is being in a dark vacant building waiting for a dog to attack. You know it’s coming. You’re warned, “Come out or I’ll send my dog in after you. You WILL get bit.” In case you didn’t hear it the first time you’re warned again. “You WILL get bit. Come out NOW.”

But and this is a big BUT, the role of a decoy is not to come out. The role of a decoy is to be still in the dark, under the tarp, until the dog latches onto you.

This leaves you time to think. And, you think, I know I’m going to get bit. Some place on my body. Maybe it will be my arm or my leg, could be my back or my shoulder.

I wasn’t too worried. I was suited up in a bite suit with a helmet on.

The advertisement for the Ultra Kimono Training Bite Suit says that high back and chest bites can be taken with confidence.

I can’t say that I was confident but I wasn’t too scared. I was squished in the corner like the Michelen man facing the wall. I felt as protected as one can feel when a police dog is on the prowl and you are the target.

Lying under the tarp, breathing shallow, I didn’t stir.

I heard the dog entering the room. It wasn’t the tap, tap of his nails that I heard first but his heavy, rapid breathing. He came closer. The dog barked a “He’s here boss!” which sounds like 2 or 3 loud snaps. The animal began moving the plastic around with his paws trying to find me with the K-9 police officer urging him on. “Get him! Get a piece of him! Find him!”

I didn’t move.

The dog latched onto my helmet and started pulling me out of the plastic. I played the next part perfectly, “Get your dog off me! Get your dog off me!” I screamed. “Get em off!”

With every dog attack my fear increased exponentially. Each police dog didn’t just want a piece of me they wanted my head. “He’s got my helmet! He’s got my helmet! He’s pulling it off! Get your dog off me!”

After one attack I took my helmet off. “Is that blood?” I asked looking down at the droplets on the floor. I felt the top of my head which felt tender but didn’t come away bloody. “Oh, that’s from the dog,” I said. It was the dog’s saliva I was seeing on the floor.

By this time, I was scared like one should be when being attacked by a police dog. Almost all the dogs went for my head no matter how they tried to position me on the floor. The bite suit was so thick and big that I couldn’t get my sleeve up to hold my helmet on and I was sure that the dogs were going to pop me like a cork. A K-9 police officer even tried to expose my back side so the dogs would go for it. Nada. They wanted Beth’s head.

I acted as a decoy in two other scenarios with multiple police dogs – standing in a corner down a long, long corridor and standing in a corner with a tarp over me. This time the dogs went for my leg. I learned that you shake your leg rapidly after the dog latches on so it doesn’t re-bite you. This is important to know if you’re a bad guy.

Having become aware of my vulnerability as a human being I started to question my soundness of mind. In-between dogs I had plenty of time to think about that. I thought maybe I wouldn’t need to do this activity again. Perhaps being a decoy one time was enough.

And, when I had the opportunity to call it a night, I sat down as quick as I could to get that bite suit off and hustled out of the building.

But, a day has gone by. And I think I just might do it again. You don’t often get the opportunity to feel that afraid and test your mettle. I have learned from this experience. Don’t go prone. Volunteer for the standing position.