“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.”—Leviticus 19:9-10
I walked the dogs through McCullough Park this morning. I like this route, which you know, because it goes along the river. What you may not know is that I also love it because of the train tracks: the path passes under a trestle and then crosses the same tracks on another street. Most people in Muncie deal with the trains, but I relish them because as I was growing up a train track ran next to our property. One of my favorite memories is standing at the railroad crossing in front of my house with my mother. I think my brother was in a stroller, but we were all walking to the library downtown. When I tell some people we used to walk from our house to the library, they gasp and choke about what a far walk it is. The walk seems much longer than it is. In reality it is about a mile and a half, which I suppose is far in a time when people thinking walking to the corner to buy a soda is a long walk. So much for that tangential thought. I can remember standing at that particular crossing many times. Each time we would wait for the caboose, so we could wave at the worker riding at the back of the train. Of course, this was when the engineers would actually wave at small children (or a maniacally waving 34 year old) as they stood with their arms above their heads screaming into the louder scream of the horn. My brother used to plug his ears with his fingers until he couldn’t stand it anymore, and then he would pull his fingers from his ears, squeeze his head between his upper arms to plug his ears, and wave his arms from his elbows to his hands over his head like a deranged sea creature. But he would laugh as the engineer always waved back. I guess this is all really unrelated to what I really want to write about, but maybe it isn’t because my life was so much simpler then. All of our lives were simpler then. I am not saying they were all peaches and cream or roses and chocolates, but there seemed to be a different spirit in the air. I could be wrong. This could be nostalgia clouding my perception.
This morning, as I came out from under the trestle, I noticed cars. There weren’t two or three, there were many. I noticed as I walked further along the path that were so many they were wrapped all the way around No Name Road to Highland. Possibly they went further than that, but I couldn’t see past the hill that goes up to the stop sign. I thought maybe the firemen, or some other fraternal order, was having a pancake breakfast in the meeting house by Martin Luther King Boulevard, but the lights weren’t on. As I got closer, I realized that everyone was sitting in their cars, or they were bundled up sitting on little stools. They seemed to be waiting in line. Mind you, I walked the dogs at about 730AM. In fact, the woman in what I realized to be the front of the line, was in a coat and a blanket with a couple of push carts, like movie directors always make bag-ladies push, even though real street people use every other kind of cart because they are more sturdy. The kind she had were the ones with two big wheels in the back, with the cart being shaped of stuff that looks like cheap farm fencing. They sell these carts in $5 souvenir shops for tourists to carry home their plunder. There she sat on her front-of-the-line throne, wrapped like a queen in her royal robe. I wondered what time she got there in order to be the first in this long line of cars. She was the only person I saw who sat out in the elements without a car to get warm in, and eventually, the car parked behind her invited her in for a sit.
I kept walking, and shortly bumped into a man who was dressed in sweat pants, Velcro tennis shoes, and a flannel button-up shirt over a sweatshirt for a coat. Beneath the hood of a sweatshirt, his baseball cap poked out. With the exception of my jeans, my Carhartt knock-off coat, and the fact that my shoes tie instead of Velcro, we were dressed quite similarly. I think his insulated flannel shirt was newer than my coat, but we looked like we both shop at reuse clothing stores and Rural King. He was smoking a cigarette, probably a Basic or some other generic brand, because it stunk like burning refuse, not like the sweet smelling burn of a Nat Sherman or even a Camel or Marlboro. He hadn’t shaved in a couple of days, or maybe bathed either. When he saw me and the dogs coming up the path, he walked toward us to my warning of the dogs’ ill behavior. When he burst into smile and said to me, “I can’t even walk one seven month old terrier. Here you are walking all three with no problem,” I knew he was a friend. His front teeth were missing, so he gummed his cigarette as he let all three dogs lick his face and sniff him. “They can smell my dogs!” he said. I was sure they could. After talking with him about dogs and the like for about ten minutes or so, I asked him what was going on. He didn’t hesitate, but I could tell he was a little—not embarrassed, that’s too strong of a word—humbled by my asking. He said, “Second Harvest is giving out food.” I smiled, “Oh, I wondered.” I asked what time they were to start giving it out. He told me nine o’clock. “Nine o’clock?” I asked, “Why is everyone here so early.” He said that in order to get the good stuff, people got there early. I wondered to myself if they ever ran out. He played with the dogs a bit more as we said our good-byes. “I have to get back in line, or I might lose my turn.”
On my way home, I made sure to look under the bridge on Elm Street to see if Tom was sleeping there in his thick blue sleeping bag with his stuff piled neatly around him. I was going to tell him about the food trucks. I couldn’t find him, so I assumed he either knew and got up early to go wait, or maybe he spent the night wandering around talking to people no one else can see. I hoped he found somewhere warm to sleep. I wondered if his family had come to pick him up this year, like they didn’t last year. I hoped that someone put him up in a hotel, like someone did this summer. I hope.
There are a few things I am thinking about all this:
- Do children still marvel at trains? Do children still marvel?
- Were we excited about small things because that was all we had? Would we have been as excited about a caboose if we had had cable?
- Will people be so courteous to each other on Black Friday as the people in line waiting for food were today? Will Black Friday be black?
- What does it say about our economy that people are willing to get in line before 730AM to wait for hours for a Food Pantry truck? What does it say that people waiting in line smoke and own pets?
- Why can’t we figure out a way to get dental care, health care, vision care for all people? For that matter, what about ensuring that children get adequate nutrition?
- Do food banks run out of food? How many extra cans of food do we all have in our cabinets? Stuff we have purchased that we will never really eat?
- Whatever happened to taking care of our neighbors? What ever happened to helping each other out? When was the last time I invited someone to dine with me?
- Would I ask Tom to come to Thanksgiving dinner? Would I let him bathe in my tub? Would I let him use my towels? Would I? Would you? Would your church?
- Do I leave my fields and my vineyards ripe for the gleaning? What does that look like in today’s culture?