Stuff’s Happening: FoodTrain

Why is it so difficult to write about what happened in November? The month began with foreshadowing that a health issue would require treatment in a three-to-five-year window. Nine days into the month, tests shortened the timeline to available slots for more extensive surgery the next week. By the middle of November, I had had major surgery, my first time being hospitalized except for delivering babies.

There is a lot I could write about attempting to fill the freezer with food, set up auto-pay for bills, finish a grandchild’s Advent calendar and locate an adult child’s birthday gift within seven days. In retrospect some parts of preparation were successful, and some missed the mark. A hospital rookie, I packed a bag that included a hair dryer, curling iron, underwear, t-shirts, leggings and more than one book. Weak during that first shower I was very happy with clean, natural hair. Nurses didn’t want a t-shirt sleeve in the way of monitors, cuffs or iv’s. My attention span didn’t last through a comparison of humidifiers much less beginning a new novel. 

Returning home was great. Our daughter had stocked individual meals for a few days. She and our daughter-in-law made Thanksgiving dinner. My plan to fill the freezer had dropped off the earlier lists. Something much better happened: MealTrain, coordinated by friends, some from our neighborhood and some from other parts of our lives, created a predictable safe zone as we figured out how to get through each day. 

For two weeks the kindness of friends fed us one hot meal each day. Pasta, soup, quiche, chicken marsala, tacos, pork tenderloin, hot sandwiches, each supplemented with salads, vegetables, and breads. Sometimes homemade bread. Plus our friends believe in dessert. One Sunday brunch was delivered and served to our entire family, an incredible gift on many levels.

My husband received daily notices from MealTrain telling who was bringing dinner and what was planned. These wonderful friends gave generously of themselves showing up every afternoon with food and a few minutes of visiting. They saved Tom, who does not cook much, a lot of stress while making both of us feel supported and inching toward ‘normal’ as we sat at our table eating dinner. 

Stuff happens, some scary and necessary, some amazingly helpful and kind. To all involved, thank you. Take care.

The Unintended Consequences of Random Acts of Kindness

My 91-year-old Mom has an old green bomber jacket she wears for quick trips to the store.  The color is scuffed off of the elbows, and the knit cuffs and waist are pilled. The jacket isn’t good enough to wear to church, but it’s too good to throw away. And she likes it, or at least she did until the other day.

She was checking out at the grocery store and the clerk had bagged two small sacks, when Mom realized she didn’t have much cash with her. Even though Mom had several credit cards in her wallet, she didn’t think to use one of them—to Mom, grocery shopping is a cash operation. Flustered, she told the clerk to put back one of the bags. She didn’t have the money for both.

As she was walking out, the woman who’d been standing behind Mom in the checkout line caught up with her and handed Mom the second bag of groceries. This generous middle-aged stranger had paid for them. Mom managed to thank the woman, but she was mortified.

Mom’s convinced that the well-intentioned stranger saw an old woman wearing a ratty coat and concluded that Mom couldn’t afford to buy groceries. Mom has a comfortable income, so the idea that she might seem in need of charity was profoundly embarrassing to her. Mom gives generously to charities—she’s accustomed to being the giver. She’s not supposed to be the receiver. She’s proud of being in good shape financially.

My sister and I suggested other possibilities: Maybe the stranger was just being nice—everyone’s had the experience of coming up short at the checkout. Maybe the stranger was just trying to spare Mom the hassle of a return trip to the store.  Maybe Mom reminded the woman of her own mother.

Mom was unmoved by our explanations. She doesn’t want anyone thinking she’s poor and feeling sorry for her. She’s shopping for a new winter coat she can wear to the store.

* * *

I had a similar experience when I was shopping at the farmer’s market. I was debating whether or not to buy my collie a smoked dog bone. I’d picked up and put back several bones while the vendor was selling me on the merits of his smoking process. I concluded that the bones might be too splintery for my dog and decided not to buy any.

I felt a little bad about wasting the vendor’s time, so I stupidly said I didn’t have that much money with me, and the dog didn’t really need the bone. I wanted to move on and figured the vendor couldn’t argue with that explanation. But another shopper overheard the conversation and insisted on buying the $2 bone for me. I tried to refuse, but she said she wanted to treat my dog. So I let her give me the bone. I didn’t want to squelch her generous impulse. Better to be gracious. I’d get over my embarrassment.

Those random acts of kindness—moments of pure generosity—had surprising consequences. Instead of being pleased and grateful, Mom and I felt stupid. Embarrassed to be seen as needy. Guilty that we’d contributed to the perception. We’d expected to be the givers, not the receivers.

However, when I’ve truly needed help—say when a stranger helps me jump a dead battery—I am grateful and delighted that the world has such good-hearted people in it.

I still like the idea of random acts of kindness and want to be more open and accepting of what the world sends my way.

cosmic smooch

cosmic smooch