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Orange Juice and Thankfulness

December 9, 2010

I spend Tuesday mornings with Elgin’s homeless, and they teach me about the kind of person I want to be.

Even when they don’t mean to.

Like last week’s lesson on excellence.

This week, I drove away from the PADS shelter in my cold car, quietly amazed – and, honestly, perhaps a little insulted.

Many of the guests are lovely people. They smile back and mutter, “Good morning,” even though they’re having anything but. Many of them are at most quietly disappointed at some inconvenience, or the absence of some comfort they’re used to having.

Others, however, get upset. Some get upset at me, or the employee who stays up all night at the shelter, when the orange juice runs out or the cereal selection is not to their liking or they suspect the donuts are day-old ones. None of these situations is ideal, and some momentary disappointment is not unreasonable.

But sometime people get irritable about it. Sometimes they groan loudly and roll their eyes and bewail their inhumane treatment.

I drove home Tuesday trying to remember the last time I had orange juice for breakfast, or how many times I’ve eaten day-old donuts with milk a few days past it’s due date. I realize, of course, that my situation is far better than any of theirs in general, but I couldn’t help but wonder why these particular guests – usually the new, younger men – seem to think that any one of us owe them … anything.

I couldn’t help but let my mind wander through everything that’s been donated to their ease: a warm place to sleep, two meals a day, hot showers, financial counseling, nominal storage space, toiletries, employment assistance, etc. I couldn’t help but wonder how an otherwise capable individual could image he’d be one of the last, of 45 people, to drag himself into the breakfast room and find the sole carton of orange juice unspent – or the coffee carafe still half-full, or the favorite cereal still waiting for him.

“No one owes those guys anything,” I thought. “You’d think they’d be grateful for the help instead of bitter about the orange juice.”

“Are you?”

The still, small voice of Love in my spirit.

I was silenced.

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