More Than a Number, by Gregory Joel

How often do we really look at the soul of the forgotten people? I loved this real life story my friend shared.

I couldn’t get the ‘Re-blog’ button to work, so here’s the entire thing, copied from his site:

She was walking down the road to the farm. I couldn’t make out who it might be. It wasn’t unusual to have new volunteers park at the gate and walk down. The “No Motorized Vehicles” sign doesn’t apply to the farm volunteers, but new folks don’t always know that.

It became clear that she wasn’t a volunteer as she got closer. Her pink top wasn’t a blouse but a cropped tank top. Her pants were a dinghy tan and her feet bare. It was a warm winter day, but winter, nonetheless. Maybe it was all she had. The clothes obviously hadn’t been washed in a long while.

The arms were quickly swaying back and forth, hands pointed outward. It was the addict’s walk – “schizting” and talking to herself.  In my old life I would’ve called it the “hoe stro’” and laughed at her. Today, it simply made me sad.

It may have been fifteen years since I found myself in her shoes – or lack of them – but I still have enough street sense to know to keep my eye on any addict. Stuff tends to disappear quickly. Addicts are quite resourceful when it comes to the “getting and using and finding means to get more”. I figured she was going to ask for money, but she walked on by without so much as a word or a sideways glance.

Photo by Arthur Yeti on Unsplash

I continued working, making sure to keep her in my peripheral vision. She stopped by the old compost pile at the south end of the farm. She looked carefully as she started walking slowly around the pile. Then it hit me – she was looking for something to eat.

I pick up culled produce from a couple of local grocery stores and add them to the compost area each Monday. It makes for great soil amendments, but I’m always saddened to see the amount of food that gets wasted each weekend. I realize stores aren’t supposed to sell products past their “Sell by” date. I know how people are about “ugly” produce – stuff that isn’t picture perfect. Much of what I pick up is still good to eat.

Many times, I’ve made food boxes to give away instead of throwing it all in the compost. Most Mondays I leave a good box of produce next to the pile. The farm is surrounded by hidden homeless camps and I don’t want it to go to waste. Maybe that’s what the young woman was looking for. Maybe she learned that something to eat could be found by the compost heap.

She had stopped circling the pile and stood there; sad eyes cast toward the ground. I put down my garden hoe and began walking towards her. She didn’t see me at first. She stood silently and never looked my way. As I got closer, her face came into focus. She must have been quite an attractive young lady at one time, but now her face was dirty, tired, and weathered, her eyes sunken and hollow. She probably wasn’t over thirty but looked to be much older. Hard living tends to age one quickly.

She looked up and saw me walking toward her. Her eyes showed fear and she hurried toward the river. One needs to be careful on the streets, especially a woman. I didn’t want to scare her, so I stopped and watched her disappear down the levee, headed for the river.

I wished there had been a box of food there. I wished she’d stopped for a minute and let me offer her some of the snacks I keep in my truck. I wished that she – that no one – had to pick through a compost pile just to have something to eat. I hurt for her.

She soon reappeared, made it up to the Trinity Trail, and walked out of sight. I went on about my work, but I couldn’t shake the image of her despair and shuffling searching. The lines on her face were burned into my memory. I couldn’t help but wonder whether she had a home to go to and people who cared about her. My heart broke for her. Empathy is a bitch sometimes.

When I first started fundraising for Opal’s Farm, I threw out a lot of statistics about food insecurity, food “deserts” (a misnomer but I’m not going to get into that now…), and our city’s low-income neighborhoods and how the farm would make a positive impact on it all. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see past a statistic, to see the face of someone else. I can’t empathize with a statistic.

Statistics are great, collecting data important and necessary, but it’s easy to see large numbers and be blinded to the individual. Quantification and identification aren’t solutions. Statistical data generates a lot of sympathy (usually in the form of pity), meetings and commissions but little action…

The young lady searching for food in the compost is more than a statistic. So is the old man I see regularly outside the neighborhood convenience store asking for change or simply something to eat. So are the kids who rely on a free school lunch to make sure they have something that day.

It’s easy to be overlooked or lumped into a category that makes them “the other” if one is just a statistic. Numbers can be overwhelming – “there’s nothing I can do so I’ll let someone else take care of it”. Just say “There but for the grace of God go I ” and go on about business…

There is something each one of us can do – a starting point for all our problems. We can stop. We can see the face behind the number. We can listen. Statistics don’t move people to action. People move people to action. Listening moves people to action. Seeing people as children of the same God and the same humanity as we are moves people to action.

In the oft-quoted passage in Matthew 25, Jesus says,

“I was hungry, and you fed me, I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink, I was homeless, and you gave me a room, I was shivering, and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me… Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me – you did it to me”

I need eyes that see – really see – and ears that listen – not just hear – to do something for the “overlooked or ignored”. I begin the process of identification that allows me to serve the God in each and everyone of us. I can’t think of a better way to live…

©2021 Gregory Joel

Infinity and beyond…

“We react to what is in front of our eyes, not what the other possibilities may be. Our survival mechanisms are designed that way perhaps, taking in and processing what needs to be dealt with in the waking world of the moment.

“Yet we are also designed in such a way that we can at least conceive of those greater realities. Curiosity, imagination, thoughts, hopes and dreams… through these we touch a different reality every day that has its own inner life for us…”

Just a snippet from the wonderful perspective of Sue Vincent.

The Silent Eye

Yet, if one could ignore space and time and be everywhere and every-when at once it would, theoretically at least, be possible to count them. Even taking all future snowfalls for the projected lifetime of our planet into consideration, it would be a finite number. There was, once upon a time, a very first snowflake to fall. There will be a last. There would come a point where there were no…

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Announcing The Eenie Meenie Miney Mini Writing Challenge!!!

A fun, cute idea for these less-fun times! Put on your eenie-meenie thinking caps and enter each week!

Susanna Leonard Hill

Rise and shine, my friends!

It’s about time for some new high jinx and shenanigans!

Given the unusual circumstances we all find ourselves in at the moment, I bet you are all challenging yourselves each and every day!

parenting

There’s the What Can I Make For Dinner Out Of 1/2 A Cup Of Raisins, A Sleeve Of Saltines, And A Can Of Baked Beans? Challenge. . .

. . .the Total Body Workout On Top Of The Coffee Table Because That’s All The Space I Have Challenge. . .

. . .and the Lord Help Me How Will I Entertain The Children On What Feels Like The Millionth Evening Of Quarantine (If I Have To Play Candy Land One More Time I Will Have To Be Committed!) Challenge!

It is just possible that the novelty is beginning to wear off of these a teeny tiny bit. . . 😊

So I…

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Hand on the Plow

I feel we’re all struggling to find hope as the world slowly turns. I love Stuart’s story and advice, and think we also need to keep our hand on the plow.

Storyshucker

I watched the morning news but turned away when feelings of hopelessness washed over me as they reported infection rates and death tolls. Isolation is helping end this nightmare, they say, but for any one individual it can sometimes seem an exercise in futility. When a reporter stressed the importance of continuing our social distancing practices, an old memory crossed my mind:

“No.” Ms. Wade shook her head. “Here’s what you’re going to do.” She put her arm around my shoulder. “Keep your hand on the plow and hold on.”

I knew what she meant.

Having grown up around farming and plows I understood the metaphor, but until then I’d never heard anyone describe so succinctly a situation pertaining to myself. Don’t dismay, was her message. Simply continue doing what I’d been doing.

It was early 1980s and I was a twenty-year-old kid working a part-time retail job. Ms. Wade…

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Wage Peace

Wage Peace

by Judyth Hill
September 11, 2001

Wage peace with your breath.
Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.
Breathe in terrorists
and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown fields.
Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.
Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.
Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.
Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.
Make soup.
Play music, memorize the words for thank you in three languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat.
Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief
as the outbreath of beauty or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side.
Wage peace.
Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious:
Have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Celebrate today.

©Judyth Hill

The Twelve Days Of Valentines…

It’s time for Susanna’s Valentiny competition again! Think of a short, sweet story on the theme of feeling curious; keep it at 214 words; and submit it between 2/12 and 2/14!

Susanna Leonard Hill

Let’s talk for a moment about deadlines and time pressure.

Woohoo!  Fun, right???!!! 🙂

Some people feel these are negative things, but I propose we look at them as an opportunity for extraordinary productivity!

(This opportunity for extraordinary productivity arises because I missed my deadline of posting this on Thursday, but we won’t talk about that 🙂 )

So if we’re being completely above board here, it’s not exactly the 12 days of Valentines.

It’s more like we have 12 days until Valentines.

Or, to be more precise, 12 days until the

The5th AnnualValentinyWritingContest!!!

Valentiny Writing Contest 2019!

So my gift to you is a nice little 12 day window to get your contest entry written! 🙂

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There’s Still Time To Enter!

The amazing Esther is hosting a fun competition and giveaway!

estherchiltonblog

Last week, I announced a short story competition to celebrate the paperback launch of my book, A Walk in the Woods. If you haven’t entered yet, don’t worry; you have until the 14th February.

The competition is to write a short story, with the following opening line:

Thank goodness they had gone.

Who had gone and why is up to you. All you have to do is open your story with the same line. The minimum word limit is 50 words and the maximum is 500 words.

To enter, send your story to estherchilton@gmail.com

The winning entry will be published on my blog and win a copy of my book.

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The Island Getaway, a Continued Story (My Part)

The Island Getaway

Teresa Grabs wrote:

As soon as Liam read the advertisement, he knew the place was for him. Three-story newly renovated home on private island in the middle of Hidden Hollow Lake. Owner motivated to sell.

“I will have it!” He scanned the ad for a contact number and phoned it immediately. To his surprise, the agent said the house was his as soon as she answered the phone. “What do you mean the house is mine? I haven’t even made an offer yet.”

She laughed. “Mr. Owens, I have been instructed to sell the home to the first person who called, and today is your lucky day. I can meet you on the pier in an hour with your keys.”

“Oh… okay… yeah! Today really is my lucky day, isn’t it?”

Liam rushed around his tiny apartment, threw a few items into a backpack, and caught the train to the pier. Halfway expecting this to be a scam, he was gobsmacked when a professional-looking woman approached him, smiling.

“Mr. Owens, I presume?”

“Um, yeah, that’s me.”

“Good. Sign here, please, and I can release your keys to you.”

His hand shook with anticipation as he scratched his name on the form.

“And here are your keys. That man will take you to the island,” she said, pointing to a man in a small row boat. “Thank you for your business.”

He watched as she walked toward the parking lot and disappeared into the crowd. “How’d she know my name?”

“You ready?” the boatman called.

“Oh, yeah. Sorry.” He climbed into the row boat and took in the beautiful scenery before him, forgetting all about the sales agent. “This is really pretty, isn’t it?”

The man didn’t respond.

“Ok.” Liam sat in silence until the island came into view. It looked exactly as it had in the advertisement. He rubbed his eyes and pinched himself, convinced it was a dream.

“Get out here,” the boatman said, sternly as they reached the shore.

“Well, thanks, I guess.” Liam stepped out into knee-deep water and shivered as it soaked his pants. “How do I get back?” he asked as the boatman pushed away from the shore.

“There’s a flare in the house should you need it,” he called back, shaking his head.

Liam turned around and saw …

Msjadeli wrote:

…first that a lush forest started directly behind the house and traveled the length of the island. Tropical birds were screeching and flying from branch to branch, their feathers glinting red, yellow, and green in the sun’s ample beams.

That’s funny, this isn’t a tropical location. What happens to the birds in when winter comes?

Liam walked the hundred yards from the water’s edge to the front of the house. He had been impressed with it in the photos and as they approached the island, but up close he saw that the home had the appearance of being vacant for a long time. Mildew had settled into the corners of the windows. There were wet leaves layered on the porch that were disintegrating. There were cobwebs covering the front door. Curiously though, there were what looked like large dog footprints that had worn a path around the front of the house and carried on towards the back of the house.

Liam walked up the leaf-sodden steps to the front door and pulled out the keys. Neither of the keys worked in the lock! He decided to walk around back to see if they’d work on the other door. As he got to the back, he noticed right away that a well-worn path led into the forest/jungle. Like the front, large dog-like prints littered the path.

Liam sighed in relief when the back door opened to one of the keys. He stepped into a stately home that must have cost a fortune to build out here on the island back in its day. Each room spared no expense. The kitchen had marble counters and ceramic floors. The dining room had a heavy oak table with 14 heavy chairs and regressed cupboards. The living room was big enough for large parties, where the centerpiece was a massive stone fireplace.

Over the mantelpiece, high on the stones, was a trophy head of a wolf.

I’m no wildlife expert but that wolf head is three times as large as a normal wolf’s head!

The sun was sitting lower in the sky, throwing shadows inside. Liam tried the light switch, but no power.

That’s right, I need to go turn the generator on in the basement.

Using the substantial oak staircase leading to the basement, he needed his flashlight which he pulled from his knapsack. Within minutes the generator was chugging and he flicked the basement light on. Looking around down there he saw a heavy iron door with a substantial lock on it.

I wonder if that’s what this other key is for?

Liam tried the key in the door, and it clicked. Pulling the heavy door took some strength. Looking in, a shiver ran up Liam’s spine. What he saw with his flashlight looked like the entrance to an underground passage of a cave that had been blasted or carved out of the granite. Liam could hear water echoing in the cave. Then he heard another sound. . . .

Padre’s Ramblings wrote:

At first he couldn’t quite make it out, but then as his ear adjusted to the echo of the granite passage it became clear.  It was the melodic singing of a woman.  It was husky, but somehow hypnotically alluring.  Almost involuntarily, he moved towards the voice.

The passage was a bit longer than he had anticipated, and took two unexpected turns making his ability to calculate his position in relation to the island almost impossible.  Was he still even “on” the island or was he under the lake?  The dripping after the first turn suggested the latter, but he was unsure.

Night had fallen before he reached what could only be describe as a subterranean portico.  As he approached the porch-way, his flashlight flitted across what seemed in gloom to be the nude figure of a middle aged woman, but when he focused the beam back on the spot where he had seen the apparition, there was nothing there.  Then there was a definite movement which he caught in his peripheral vision.  Something large, and dark shot into the forest beyond.

“What the f —,” he said aloud, jumping back against the passageway wall.  After steeling himself, he shot his light towards the cave mouth to the trees beyond.  Well, at least I’m still on the island, he mused trying to give himself some consolation.

Once he was sure that nothing was going to come in from the outside he began to systematically examine the porch.  There was a fair amount of tracked-in dirt on the floor, but it was clear that the surface underneath was tiled.  There was a marble bench and a matching marble table – on which there was a framed black and white photo of a young well-to-do looking couple dressed in a style popular just after the Second World War.

His light then fell on a small pile of neatly folded woman’s clothing placed carefully on the corner of the bench.  Under the seat was a pair of elegant shoes, which seemed to placed with similar care.  He stooped to examine the shoes, and as he did his flashlight illuminated not only small human footprints in the layer of dirt, but more of the huge dog prints almost everywhere in the chamber.

He nearly jumped out of his skin when one of the tropical birds called out in the night.  It was then that he saw . . .

Joanne the Geek wrote:

that Hank was standing there. He was a Facebook friend. One Liam had never actually met for real before. He wore a black leather coat and a dark wide brimmed hat. He was holding a Glock.

“Hank? What are you doing here?’ Liam asked surprised. Hank started laughing at him.

“Good to finally meet you in the flesh, Liam. You are only here because you have fallen into my trap! Everything that has happened to you was so we would eventually meet here at this spot.” Hank revealed.

“So you’re going to shoot me? Can I ask why? I thought we were friends.”

“No I’m not going to shoot you, unless I have to. I just want to humiliate you!”

“Is there a reason for this?” Liam asked totally confused.

“You made fun of one of my Facebook posts, and since then I have plotted my revenge!”

“I think I know the one you mean. I thought you were trying to be funny. I’m sorry about that.” Liam explained. The gun clicked, and Liam almost felt his heart explode out of his chest.

“It’s too late for that!” Hank shot back. “I want you to put on those women’s clothes there and start dancing and lip-syncing  to Britney Spears’s Oops! I Did It Again. I will record it on my phone and then post it onto Facebook with your name tagged on it. You will never live it down.” He started laughing maniacally. I really should have unfriended him a while ago, Liam thought.

He motioned with his gun and Liam began removing his clothes and then putting on the women’s clothes that were folded on the bench. Disturbingly, they managed to fit quite well. As soon as he had changed, Hank began playing the song on his phone.

“Dance!” he ordered. Liam began dancing and trying to lip-sync to a song he barely knew. Hank began recording it on his phone as Liam continued dancing. Hank gave some further orders: “Put some expression into it! Make love to the camera!” Liam began wondering if this was not so much about the need to humiliate him, but more about Hank’s own strange desires…

Then without warning, the largest wolf Liam had ever seen suddenly pounced on Hank. He screamed as the wolf attacked him. What the hell was going on here? And why am I still dancing? Liam wondered.

The wolf having finished with Hank, then turned to face Liam…

My part:

Liam paused, mid-hip thrust. The wolf’s eyes glittered against the verdant darkness seeping in from the forest. Its teeth glinted in the reflected glow of Hank’s cell phone, still recording. Liam could hear the echoes of Hank digesting, oddly melodic in the granite tunnel.

He swallowed. Quickly assessing his chances of escape, he shuddered down to sit across from the wolf. “Always die like a man,” Liam’s grandfather had said -strange advice to be telling a grandchild, and even stranger from a man who’d been found in drag…

The wolf laughed. Liam blinked. Then, before his eyes, the animal morphed.

“Eeeuragh!” Liam covered his eyes. Animal-shifting was clearly not like in the movies. He felt scarred for life at the grotesque, painful, obscene imagery he’d glimpsed before screaming. Between that and watching Hank be consumed, Liam’s therapist could count on three solid years of paid work.

“Mr. Owens.”

Liam peeked between his stiff fingers, then dropped them from his face. The cell phone now illuminated a professional-looking woman: the realtor. Also contrary to shape-changing in movies, she was dressed. “What the –”

“I can see you are surprised,” she said. She stepped forward, casually crushing the cell phone beneath a stiletto-ed heel.

Liam blinked, his eyes adjusting to the forest moonlight in the cave. He made out the realtor’s shape, her hand a few inches from his face in a helpful gesture. He took it and rose from the ground. She smiled wolfishly before turning to walk back up the tunnel. Liam followed.

“I own this place, you see.” She glanced back at Liam before continuing, “Rather, my family owns it. A few centuries ago, a man came and claimed it for himself.” They stooped under a few natural bumps in the ceiling, nearly to the door into the basement. Liam saw the realtor’s neat eyebrows contract in painful memory. “The man, the one who came and slaughtered my grandfather and put his head upon his own mantel -that man was Hank’s great-great-great grandfather.”

They entered the house once more and stood, paused, at the base of the substantial staircase. “I’m …I’m sorry,” Liam managed. To himself, he determined to use any means possible to get off the island and back to his therapist.

“Until you came along, I had no way of confronting Hank. No way of reclaiming our property.” She faced Liam. Her dark hair framed a sweet, vulnerable face. Her blue eyes, full of sadness and gratitude, were a startling contrast to her hair and black eyelashes. “I’m so very sorry for what I put you through, but also eternally grateful.”

Liam shrugged and tried to look away, but couldn’t. It’d been a year and half since his last relationship. He’d forgotten how beautiful a woman could be. How seductive.

The realtor stepped closer. “We got off to a …an unusual start, I know, but I’d love to show you my gratitude….” She smiled. “Upstairs.”

Liam thought. “Well,” he said, “I do need to get out of these clothes…”

 

FIN

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Rules:

  1. post the story as you receive it
  2. add to the story (or finish it, up to the writer)
  3. tag another person to continue the story (unless you finished it)
  4. Have fun!

 

Part 1 Teresa Grabs

Part 2 Tao Talk

Part 3 Padre’s Ramblings

Part 4 Joanne the Geek