Father Eric and the Peanut-butter

Car window stuck down-that was today’s challenge as I headed out the door to make a living.  And where better to have such a problem than downtown Eureka, where lots of people borrow things without asking—usually through open windows.

That scares me more than it once did.  It’s a function of age, vulnerability—and reading the front page, not to mention those news blogs.  I don’t like being unnerved by being outside, even in my own neighborhood.  Furthermore, working for one’s self is hard on the nerves.  You cannot call in sick because there is no back-up.  And, you can dilly-dally your next meal right out the window. I took the car to have the window fixed.

The auto-electric shop wanted cash up front to fix the broken window—money I didn’t have.  In fact, they wanted cash just to diagnose the problem.  So much for free estimates.  Why sympathize with me?  Isn’t that time-consuming, bothersome and bad business?  If you help one deadbeat like me, you’ll have to help them all.  In my view, I needed the window fixed so I could use the car to make the money to have it fixed.  Maybe that conundrum threw them.  I left– the sound of mariachi music blaring from my radio.

I could have spent the whole day fuming over broken windows and rude people.  But that’s allowing dingbats to win.  Instead, I took charge of my emotions.

I went to a place where compassion matters, Betty Kwan Chinn’s downtown center.  It’s the place where empathy spreads like peanut-butter.  There, Betty and her friends teach needy people about personal grooming and people skills, all lessons folks could have used at that auto electric shop.  Maybe I’m the simple one for believing that people deserve a second chance.  When I hear of a better way, I’ll let you know.

Call going to Betty’s place that morning an act of blind faith.  I knew it was when I saw the jars of peanut-butter in the kitchen.  They were, it turned out, a gift of Father Eric Freed.

Betty said she barely knew him.  Once, she had apologized for not going to church more often.  He had told her not to worry about it—that her work is enough.  That’s when he asked her what she needed most for her center.  “Peanut butter,” she replied.  So Father Eric wrote the check, $500, the words “peanut butter” scrawled in the memo.

There in her kitchen the day of my visit, volunteers were spreading peanut butter on loaves of bread, meals for the homeless and hungry.  It was the peanut butter purchased by Father Freed.

Debate over what to do about the “homeless” has polarized us.  Sadly, Father Freed’s death has only heightened that emotion as we poke around for whom to blame.  And in our clumsiness to affix that blame, we hurt the very people who deserve it least.

Betty said it was smart of me to latch on to Nina, who suffered in Korea what Betty suffered in China.  It helps me better understand Betty just as I tried with Nina.

For me, it is hard to forgive when you lose someone so close.  I’ve done it twice in one year.  But it is easier to find solace in the things they have left behind.  With Nina, it’s the mink coat I bought her at the Humboldt Sponsors Rummage Sale, a coat so inappropriate around here—but so Nina.  With Father Freed, it’s the peanut butter.

Love is not always popular or clearly defined.  But you know it when you see it.

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