jimowenswrites

Reflections on Life, Leadership, Mindfulness, Change, and other Important Stuff

Month: April, 2015

Mom’s Homemade Granola

There’s a certain delight

In every bite

Of Mom’s homemade granola.

 

Or biscuits with cheese,

They always do please

Everything that she bakes.

 

I wish I could refrain

It makes me insane

That I eat it all up.

 

I eat it in haste

Every bite that I taste

Though I’m not really hungry.

 

It’s simple you see;

I eat it with glee

And with no regret.

 

Though my pants may be snug,

And there’s crumbs on the rug

I find such great pleasure,

 

In abandon so wreckless.

Creating this food mess,

Eating all Mom’s home baking.

Hundred Dollar Bill

The bearded man sitting on the sidewalk didn’t look hungry. In fact, he looked rather well fed. A small dog, probably a Cairn Terrier, alert and friendly, sat by his side. The hand-lettered sign, fashioned from a dirty piece of cardboard, said only “hungry” and sat beside a super-sized plastic cup. The infrequent sound of change hitting the bottom of a cup netted the donor a sincere if quiet, “God bless you.” If anyone had been keeping track of those who passed by without so much as a glance, it would have been easy to believe the man and his dog were just occasional flashes of reality bursting through from another dimension.

As a young man stooped to drop a five-dollar bill into the man’s cup his companion upbraided him. Neither broke his stride as they headed for the train station.

“Dude, a five dollar bill? Seriously? That guy has a dog. If he can feed a dog he can feed himself.”

Michael didn’t take the bait. He had no expectation Kevin would be swayed.

“Seriously, Michael, why give money to a guy who will probably spend it on liquor?”

He had heard it all before. In fact, he had heard it several times in the last few weeks. Michael didn’t remember when he had seen the man and his dog. Actually, he thought he had seen the dog first; it reminded him of a childhood family pet. Michael also couldn’t remember when or why he had first decided to drop a few coins into the man’s cup.   Maybe it was the dog. But whatever the time or reason, Michael new it had felt awkward the first time and he had avoided eye contact with the man. He still did.

On the first day he had offered the man a few pieces of change, Kevin had objected with almost as much vigor as he had shown over the five-dollar bill.

“These people are everywhere man. One of them sees you start giving another one money and pretty soon they will be all over you.”

Kevin had something of a point. People like the man with the dog were everywhere in Chicago. Some were quiet. Some were aggressive. They shared the sidewalks with commuters, street performers, and even lay preachers admonishing sinners that Jesus would soon return and that everyone should repent of his sins. Along with the noise they made, the sirens, horns and trains, Michael thought of The Loop, Chicago’s central business district, as a symphony of sights, sounds and smells that might have the power to make people disappear. Disappearing into the streets, getting lost in his own thoughts, was something he enjoyed, even when he walked alongside his friend.

“Are you even listening?”

“Wait. What? What’d you say?”

“Never mind. You’re hopeless.”

After that night Kevin gave up. He had noticed that Michael no longer pulled money from his wallet to offer the man with the dog. It appeared he now kept a few tightly wrapped bills in his pocket allowing them to avoid interrupting the flow of pedestrian traffic along State Street. Midwesterners were more patient than many other urban commuters, but only to a point.

For several weeks the men played their roles in their curbside drama. But tonight they had stopped for drinks before heading to the train. As Michael approached the man and his dog he reached into his pocket.

“Damn. Empty.” He whispered to himself. He pulled out his wallet and opened it to find only a single one hundred dollar bill.

“You are not gonna give that guy a ‘Benjamin’. No way, man. If he tries to spend it people will think he stole. Come on, Michael, we’re gonna miss the train.”

Michael wasn’t listening to Kevin. He was too busy negotiating with himself about the wisdom of parting with such a large sum. By the time they reached the man he had removed the bill. As he bent to place it in the cup, the man, sitting cross-legged before him spoke.

“Thank you sir. I’m glad I could help you,” came the voice of a man who had spent too many nights in the cold.”

“What?” Michael thought he had misheard the man, but was nonetheless indignant.

“Man we gotta go! We’re gonna miss the train.” Kevin was now a distance ahead. He had not slowed to witness Michael’s foolishness. He couldn’t bear it.

Michael considered removing the bill from the man’s cup but Kevin’s plea had interrupted that idea. He trotted toward Kevin now even as he glanced back at the man who returned Michael’s look with a nod. As the man dissolved into the crowd closing behind them Michael considered sharing his protest with Kevin, but thought better of it.

For several nights after, Michael looked for the bearded man he now called “Hundred Dollar Bill.” But the man appeared to have given up his station after that night. No one had filled the spot, which was unusual he thought. But why would he think it was unusual? He didn’t really know what the habits of these people. Maybe the man had died and there was a code about such things.   Michael found himself concerned for the man. He also admitted to himself he was also concerned about the dog. What had happened to them? His concern annoyed him a bit. The man had said he was glad he could help me. Good grief.

At first, he had wanted to find “Bill” and make it clear that it was he, Michael, that was doing the helping. But with each night that had passed the annoyance faded and had now resolved into unsettled concern. How could this man he had really seen until that final night, never really looked at, have come to occupy his thoughts? This dirty bearded man and the dog occupied his thoughts like a ghost. But you don’t see ghosts. Not really. They may be there. But no one really sees them do they?

Walking down after that night was never the same. Michael saw them everywhere. They weren’t invisible. They weren’t ghosts. When he saw the woman with the sign that said, “I’m just hungry,” Michael realized what the man meant when he said he was glad he could help Michael. Then Michael wondered what else, or who else, he had not seen. He reached into his pocket then placed several loose bills into the woman’s hand. He looked her directly in the eye and said a sincere, if quiet, “God bless you.”

Saving Grace: A Brief Fiction

The young man stood patiently, waiting for a silver haired man, dressed in a blazer and wool slacks to finish speaking to the Priest. The man’s neatly dressed but frail wife stood beside him. As they turned to leave, the Priest grasped the man on his shoulder, offering a reassuring touch.

“Father, I’m not sure I am in the right place?” said the young man to the stooped old Priest in the ornate gold vestments.

“How can I help you young man?”

“My friend has died and I am looking for the memorial service.”

The cool spring morning seemed a contradiction to the young man’s apparent grief.

“Have I missed it? I am looking for Grace’s memorial. She was my friend.”

“Grace? Grace Thomas?   You’re a friend of Grace’s?”

“Yes sir.”

The Priest called to the man whose shoulder he had just released.

“Steven, this man was a friend of Grace’s”

“Dr. Thomas?”

“Yes.”

“My name is David. I was a friend of your daughter. We were in school together.”

“Oh, David. Yes. David, she just spoke of you last week.”

David stepped back, surprised to find he might have been spoken of during Grace’s final days. In the moments that followed, the man, his wife, and the younger man, shared the smiles and pain of memories and loss. The older man explained, that no, the funeral is in a few days.   Not today. The paper had made an error. Grace’s mother smiled at David, grateful for the youn man’s grief and love for her lost child. The younger man explained he was only in town for the weekend and had seen the paper, how he needed to be there to say goodbye.

“Grace was brilliant and kind,” he said.

“She was,” said Steven Thomas. “And I never won an argument with her,” managing a smile.

“Are you going to Mass son? Are you a Catholic?”

“No sir. No sir. I’m not a Catholic.”

“You should go to Mass son. Might just be the Holy Spirit brought you here for just that purpose.”

“Well sir, I suppose that’s possible. But for now He’s told me to go back and finish the work I started with an axe and chainsaw this morning.”

The parted with a warm embrace and knowing smiles, finding comfort in one another’s presence. As the young man returned to his car he found himself wondering how much had to happen to create such a divine appointment. What if he hadn’t been in town, hadn’t packed a dress shirt for some odd reason, what if he hadn’t stopped for coffee on his way to Our Lady of Peace?   What if the obituary had not been wrong? What if the parking space that had opened just as he drove up to the church hadn’t been open? And what if Grace’s parents hadn’t stopped to talk to the Priest? David wondered if there was some Hand in all this that had conducted this orchestra of these.

As he held the axe in his gloved hands, he wondered all those things as his tears turned to sobs, not simply in grief, but in gratitude as well. Again and again he swung the axe, chips flying past like memories of Grace, like life, he thought. He swung the axe until his shoulders ached more than his heart. And he smiled.

Sunday Morning

As I sit

And contemplate

This day ahead,

Those gone by;

Enjoy the breeze,

The butterfly;

 

On Sunday Morning.

 

Sip the brew

And new day live

In gentle ease;

It seems this life

Has troubles small

So free from strife;

 

On Sunday Morning.

 

And now reflect

How others fare

And my neglect

Their needs to meet

My conscience full

My life so sweet.

 

On Sunday Morning.

 

What must I do?

How can I mend?

Another’s soul

Put to an end

Some hungry grief?

 

On Sunday Morning.

 

In my own way

Sure not another’s;

Perhaps a coin to give,

A smile or touch,

Might mean to them

So very much;

 

On Sunday Morning.

 

Though all I cannot

Redeem all from trial

But all together

Might offer a while

Some place to rest

Body and soul,

Some others bless;

 

And all days ‘til

Sunday Morning.

Spring Could Be Much Better

If it were up to me,

I think you all could see.

 

Spring could be much better,

Despite this sunny weather.

 

All this powdery pollen,

Just keeps my head a’squallin’

 

Way down here in Dixie

It makes my throat all itchy

 

Each day could be more pleasing,

If I could just stop sneezing;

 

Mother Nature I do now implore

As for all the pollen, less is truly more!

Donut Shop: A Short Fiction

“What kind do you want, Peter?”

The little boy tilted up on his toes, peering into the case, his eyes aglow at white-icing topped donuts with colorful sprinkles, purple jelly-filled delights covered with powdery brown sugar and cinnamon. The over-large woman standing behind the counter watched the child surveying the donut-filled trays, crepe tissue in one hand, waxed-bag in the other. It was difficult to tell if she was patient or indifferent.

“Can I have two?”

“Just one. You have to choose,” said the woman standing behind him.

If Peter was disappointed in her verdict his enthusiasm was undiminished. He side stepped down the counter, then returned half way and jabbed a finger on the glass.

“That one!”

He chose a crueler, iced to perfection, leaving a faint oily fingerprint on the glass.

“Anything to drink?” Asked the woman, Millie, according to the embroidered script on her shirt.

“Chocolate milk!” Peter instructed.

“No, Peter. Plain white milk, please,” countered his mother.

The old man sitting in the corner had seen this ritual borne out many times. His station in the shop allowed him just the right angle to watch people come to the counter and make their selections. Watching children was the thing he enjoyed most. Most of them were so enraptured with the prospect of making their selection and the anticipation of the first bite they were oblivious to everything else.

The adults who came into the shop were often impatient, eager to collect several dozen donuts and race on to their daily duties. At night, they were less hurried, looking ragged from the day, perhaps seeking some brief solace in the indulgence of the alchemy of sugar, shortening and flour. Some came frequently. Enough for him to have given them names. There was “Richard,” a buttoned-up banker, he suspected, always in a dark suit and bold tie.   “Alice” often came into the shop late at night. A nurse at some nearby hospital he thought, she wore the same light blue scrubs and white Nike shoes every day. He thought she always looked sad and more than a little tired.

When Peter plopped down at the table not far away from him, the old man watched him closely. His mother had taken out her smart phone and began to tap away at it. With Peter’s first bite, nearly half the donut disappeared, his mouth left covered with an opaque glaze. He chewed fiercely, eager to make room for the next bite.

“Slow down,” said his mother, barely looking up from the device.

“Momma, why didn’t you get a donut?”

“Because Momma’s not hungry.”

“You don’t gotta be hungry to eat a donut, Momma.” The child mumbled through a his bite.

The old man heard the boy’s words and chuckled, softly. Out of the mouths of babes, he thought. People of all shapes and sizes came into the shop most of them probably weren’t really hungry, except for donuts and coffee.

“Wipe your mouth, Peter. No! With a napkin.” The boy had swept his sleeve across his mouth before she could stop him. He took a long draw on the bottle of milk and finished the gulp with an “aaah” of deep satisfaction.

“You want the last bite, Momma?”

“What? No, Peter. No thank you.”

The boy didn’t hesitate. As he had made the offer he was afraid she would accept. He wasn’t going to wait on her to change her mind.

“We have to go.”

The woman reached across the table and wiped the boy’s mouth and fingers with a damp cloth she had retrieved from a plastic bag in her purse. Peter slid off his chair and picked several large crumbs from his shirt, popped them in his mouth. Then he brushed his shirt while trotting to catch his mother who was already at the door. Then they were gone.

The old man sipped at his coffee and gazed across the empty shop at Millie. She nodded a half smile. He nodded back, raising the thick beige porcelain cup to her in acknowledgement. Then he turned and looked out the window, watching the car pull into traffic.

He catalogued the little vignette in his mind, just as he did all such moments. He smiled and wondered if they had seen him, if they were even aware he was there. No matter. He watched just them just the same. Everyone came to the shop. Old. Young. Black. White. Wealthy. Poor. There in the shop they all came for pretty much the same thing. For a moment, he thought, they find it and leave. But they always come back. And he would be there. Waiting. Smiling. Watching.