Saturday, March 15, 2008

Peanut Butter Blues

I've been volunteering on Thursday mornings with Catholic Charities in my area. I like the work; I'm tutoring an immigrant woman from Sudan and visiting with an elderly lady (and trying to help her son find a job.) It's nothing earth shattering, but I like the people and I'm glad to be doing something concrete for others.

On my way home I always pass the same intersection, where there is usually a homeless man with a sign: "Anything will help, even a smile!"

I used to see homeless people all the time. My college town was full of them, as were the cities I lived in after graduating. It was common for me to pass three or four homeless people on my way to work every morning, and the same ones again when I went out to lunch or on my way home. So I got used to carrying dollars in my pocket and handing out leftovers after lunch. If I had nothing, I gave them at least the dignity of eye contact and a smile or a wave.

It bothers me exceedingly that I can give nothing to this homeless man. The first time I drove by him and saw the sign I had a bag of apples that one of the people I help had given me. So I rolled down the window and handed it to him. The second time I saw him, I had nothing but a smile, so I gave that and he waved and smiled back.

Well, last Thursday morning I was determined to give him something substantial, even though I couldn't give him any money. So I made him a lunch. I made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, put in an apple, some carrot sticks, a piece of chocolate and a bottle of water. I even put a little encouraging note in the bag and set it on the front seat in preparation for quick handing out the passenger window.

He wasn't there.

I even circled around the block and went into a store to make sure I wasn't just early and had missed him. Nope, no one. Empty corner.

I could have cried, not only because I wanted to do something for him and had been thwarted, but because the incident served to highlight once again that I am operating under severe limitations. I am not free to help people when I see them. I have to be prepared to do good, I have to find creative ways to give, and, as in this case, it often means I can do nothing.

The crux of my problem, though, is a bit more personal. I hate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I only made one because it's the only kind of sandwich filling we had in the house. I never buy cold cuts (meat only twice a week doesn't allow for that, not to mention the expense and presence of preservatives.) But here I was, driving home utterly disappointed with this sack lunch that would go to waste if I didn't eat it. The sandwich wouldn't keep for a week, and I'd used the wrong kind of jam to serve it to my son (those of you with children will understand. "Mommy! This jelly has lumps!" and it's summarily rejected.)

So I had to eat it. Have I mentioned how I hate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? I had to swallow past my gag reflex a couple times and disguise the taste with the carrot sticks. Let me confess to you how stupid I felt offering up my difficulty eating it for the homeless man, who was likely sitting hungry somewhere at that very moment. But it really was a sacrifice for me to eat it.

And now I'm torn. Do I make another sack lunch for him next week? If I don't and I see him, I'll be kicking myself for days that I missed the opportunity to do something for him. But if I do and he's not there...I just REALLY don't want to eat another peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I should make him a lunch. Cardinal George eats sandwiches he doesn't like. St. Therese of Lisieux would probably go so far as to eat a PB&J every day just as she did the leftover food the other nuns rejected.

Meh. I really wish I could just hand him $5. If nothing else, I think this is why God has put this obstacle in my path. It's a hard lesson to learn, but the truth is that handing over a 5 spot won't do as much for my soul as choking down a sandwich I despise will.

Still, I really hope he's there next week.

Picture credit.


Milehimama said...

When I lived in Denver, we made "buddy bags" and kept them in the car. It had a drink, granola bar or some other thing that would "keep", and fruit. Sometimes I would put a holy card or at least a note inside and let the kids decorate the bag.
We just kept them in the car.

If you are able to do this - pack an extra lunch using things you already have - get oranges or bananas. A lot of homeless people don't ever see a dentist and can't eat apples.

Do what you can - God sees!

Tienne said...

Good point about the apples. I'll be sure to put grapes in next time I make a lunch.

And I love the idea of getting the kids involved in the "buddy bags!" There's a craft idea for this week right there. Thanks!

Anna said...

I like the granola bar idea. Can't you give him food without giving him a sandwich? Or use the kind of jelly on the sandwich that your kids like, and give it to them if he isn't there.