I like to have a couple of beers at the local after a long day of writing. It's a an easy way to unwind and more importantly, a great way to solve what the great American novelist Jim Harrison calls the problem of "re-entry." That is, leaving the solitary fictional world for the real one waiting for you outside your writing studio.
Two days ago I was sipping my first cold beer, still feeling the bumps and bruises of the five back-to-back rewrites I'd just completed for my new publisher, when my friend Dave walked in. We always light up when we see one another because we are both musicians. And pretty good musicians at that, the two of having been playing out in some pretty hot bands for more than thirty years. Often when I see the stocky, pleasant-faced Dave, he settles himself on the stool beside me, orders a glass of red and we start in on a conversation about music which almost always leads to women and/or our present love interest. Yes, like me, Dave is a bachelor with kids.
But this time, we didn't talk music or women.
This time Dave asked me what I did this past weekend. I told him that I had to work both days in order to meet my Tuesday deadline. It made me feel good to admit that I gave up the weekend to work. Unselfish even. I expected Dave to tell me he'd gone out with friends or maybe on a date and that it was all a lot of fun. But he didn't tell me that. Instead he told me that he'd helped a friend of his move. He told me his friend was a cook at a local diner that Dave often frequents. The cook not only lost everything he owns right down to his wallet in a tragic house fire, but that he only survives on about $400 per week. Four hundred bucks and the cook, who is a single parent, supports four kids who live with him full-time.
As is too often the case with a man in the cook's situation, he had no where to go. But despite being a man of meager means, the cook spends much of his free time volunteering to help out underprivileged inner-city kids. So much time that he caught the attention of the mayor who not too long ago, offered to help the cook should he ever find himself in need of anything. All the cook would have to do is ask.
This past weekend the cook took the mayor up on his offer. In turn, the mayor offered up an multi-bedroom apartment inside an empty battered women's shelter. The cook could take the place for he and his kids for as long as he needed, free of charge, until a time when he got back on his feet. The mayor came through for a man who might not have a whole lot of money, but who unselfishly sacrifices his time to help others. And from what I hear, he can cook up a mean plate of eggs and bacon.
You might think that's the end to a heart-warming story. But as Dave sipped his wine, he shook his head and sighed. He told me that Social Services got word of the cook living inside the shelter. That regardless of the mayor's offer, the cook will be forced to hand over his children to "the system" should he not find his own proper housing and the financial means to support his children within thirty days. Social Services feels it's doing the cook a favor here. It's their job to take children away from their parents when they feel the parents aren't properly supporting the youth's needs.
Dave and I sat in silence for a while as I regretted having told him about my having worked all weekend. It made me realize how lucky I am to have such good fortune and how selfish I can be sometimes when I give up an entire weekend to work on my writing. I asked Dave if there was anything that could be done for the cook. He mentioned that he'd played a gig on Saturday night to benefit the cook. That he was able to raise hundreds of dollars. "Hey," Dave said, "the guy cooks my food. It was the least I could do."
I can learn a lesson from Dave. I can also learn a lesson from the cook. It doesn't matter what's happening in your life, good or bad. Sometimes it's just better to drop everything you're doing to help out another soul in need. It's what we do because we have to, and it's what we do in order to earn the right to call ourselves human beings.
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