Under My Skin

People get there. Sometimes I love people so much that it breaks my heart.

I work at a Senior/Community Center, and am blessed to see a handful of regulars on a daily basis. Some days this work feels tragic. Others it is just overwhelmingly too good.

Eddie and Jo Jo are two brothers who come into the center every day. Around 8:15 every morning they bounce in, always in good moods, to volunteer for half the day. They laugh at me and shout at me across the room. They give me hugs and sometimes surprise me with hot cups of the center’s bad coffee. Both brothers have mental and physical disabilities which slow down their lives a great deal, but haven’t seemed to stop their smiles.

Tina is another volunteer here at the center. She is one of the sweetest women I know. Tina is a tiny, beautiful Hispanic woman, originally from Mexico. She came to this country as a migrant worker, picking asparagus in Washington, potatoes in Idaho, strawberries and string beans in Oregon, and oranges in California. After years of hard labor, she still comes into the community center everyday to volunteer. Her gentleness always gives me pause. I am constantly reminded to reevaluate my own perspective on my circumstances.

Kevin is another regular of whom I am very fond. Kevin is quiet and withdrawn, and often rather skittish. He walks and sits hunched over, almost as if he is trying to hide inside himself. Kevin talks to himself, and shouts angrily at voices only he hears. He won’t talk to most people, and gets agitated in unfamiliar circumstances. Kevin has a certain fragility about him that I can identify with. He warms my heart when he will engage with me, however briefly. One of the highlights of my day is our routine conversation about how cold it is outside, and what time we are each going home.

One of my volunteer drivers said to me yesterday, “I’ve seen a lot of things that amaze me.” He was including in that, his time as a Navy Boatswain during the War in Vietnam, being a young married man in Japan, and subsequent years here in Oregon. I’m sure he has as many horror stories as he does pleasant ones –he still thinks the world is amazing.
I can’t believe how astounding the lives around me are.

I am also fortunate to be surrounded with an assortment of incredible people when I go home at the end of the day. Particularly, I live in a house with six wonderful kids –not my own children, but I get to help care for them.
At dinner last night, six year old Luke says, as he is sitting across the table from me: “You know? Everybody is a piece of art.” The things that come out of that kid’s mouth never fail to amaze or amuse me. I asked him why. “Because God made each of us.” And he made us all different, and complex and dynamic. He made beautiful faces with strong spirits. He made six-year-olds who ask the best questions, and 67 year-olds who never stop smiling. He made storytellers and hug givers, quiet comforters and loud lovers. He gave us all a confounding amount of intricacy. I am frequently overwhelmed by the wonder of those around me: the heartaches and sorrows, the smiles and joys. The little victories and big triumphs of the day.

I got to finish off this day by reading Dr. Seuss as a bedtime story to two of the kiddos. That was an unplanned surprise that included snuggling on their new loft bed and reading an extra long story with fun rhymes.
Some days life is so full, it overflows.

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