Brown Paper Packages

taco picSo, Sean and I started our Saturday morning by walking down to Jo’s Coffee shop on South Congress as we often do.  We ordered our coffees and as I was feeling pretty hungry I ordered two Pappas, Egg and Cheese tacos to match Sean’s order.  We said hello to our new friend Nichole who was once again sporting her red silk kimono and joined her at the large community table to eat our breakfast.  After finishing my first taco, I decided I’d been overzealous in my ordering and wrapped up the remaining taco in a brown paper bag and shoved it down in my backpack to bring home to Al.

I read a little and did some writing warm-ups while Sean sketched various people from around the shop.  Jo’s has a different vibe on Saturdays.  The regulars are there, but there are more families and small children and impolite dogs who bark, bark, bark.  At first the energy is inspirational but eventually we feel the itch to move on and today we have errands to run anyway. So, we packed up our stuff and continued up the hill.

I wanted to make Mexican Wedding Cakes and forgot the vanilla last time I was at the grocery store so we headed to the Farm to Market store which is too expensive to go to on a regular basis but I was willing to splurge to save the time of dragging Al’s big truck out of the garage to go to the HEB.  I spent ten dollars on a bottle of organic vanilla and even the cashier double checked the outrageous price but I was being lazy and I paid for it.  The cashier asked if I wanted a bag. I considered just throwing the bottle in my purse but worried it might leak so I said yes and she wrapped the bottle in small brown paper sack.  I shoved the sack down in my purse not realizing that brown paper sacks would cause problems in my near future.

Sean needed to go to the bank so we walked further up the hill than usual.  Beyond the bank there is a middle school and some barber shops but the shops become more spread out and less appealing so the bank was to be our last stop before heading back to the apartment down the hill.  On our way to the bank, we approached an elderly man with a bushy gray beard in a wheelchair.  He had a cardboard sign in his lap and the words written in Sharpie marker said something about needing any kind of help anyone could offer.  I remembered my leftover taco and said hello to the man and his friend standing next to him.  I told him I didn’t have any cash, which I didn’t, but that I had a taco in my purse and would he like to have it.  He said he would, so I opened my purse and took out the brown paper sack and handed it to him.  We exchanged God Bless You with Have a Nice Day and Sean and I crossed the street to the bank.

As we left the bank, I noticed the man and his friend were gone.  I mentioned to Sean that this was the first time I had ever uttered the phrase, “I have a taco in my purse,” to anyone.  We laughed.

At home, I tidied up the kitchen and started chopping pecans for my cookie dough.  I followed the recipe until I got to the line that read, “Whip butter and sugar together and add vanilla.”  I went to my purse to retrieve the vanilla and dug around past the sunglasses and Kleenex and various pens and pencils. There was no brown bag.  A realization started to dawn and so I checked my backpack and there it was, wrapped in brown paper… the taco I thought I had given to the wheelchair bound man.  “Oh no!” I shouted to Sean with wide eyes while slapping both palms to my cheeks.  “I gave the vanilla to the homeless man!”  “What is he going to do with ten dollars’ worth of pure organic vanilla?” Then, I mimed tipping back a bottle and taking a drink and planted my face in my palm while Sean laughed.

Being heard

 

Topsail Island, North Carolina

Good conversation is like a day at the beach, like the gentle ebb and flow of waves against the shore.  Participation should be a back and forth motion, equal parts talking and listening.  When I find myself in a group situation where everyone is open and not only willing to share but willing to consider other views, I don’t want to be anywhere else.

Fred says good conversation makes for good community.  I find this to be absolutely true.  Have you ever been in a group where conversation is effortless?  Each person contributing usually accompanied by laughter, because when things are going well topics are light.  In these moments we feel like we belong.  That’s community.

On the other hand, think of a situation where something of importance is at stake.  What’s it like to feel like no one is listening or information is being withheld?  It creates an uncomfortable atmosphere and causes suspicion.  It’s in these situations through a breakdown of communication that community starts to crumble.  As the back and forth exchange of information becomes broken, rumor springs forth and people start to feel isolated.  Then, people take sides in an effort to belong.  It seems its human nature to seek out community.

I witnessed this breakdown of community recently when our school district announced some dramatic budget cuts.  Members of certain groups within the school system, out of fear that their program might be cut, divided into opposing sides.  False information was layered within truth and lots of finger-pointing occurred.  Thankfully, I also witnessed a voice of reason reaching out to unite our community.  A third group formed with the intent of finding accurate information and posting it publicly so individuals could form new opinions based on fact instead of emotionally driven rhetoric. 

I’ve been noticing this phenomenon recently.  With the integration of the internet to a majority of American households, it seems individuals are reaching out to find like-minded souls not to form a majority in an effort to conquer but to open up dialogue.  Take a look at Facebook, people are forming groups to offer support, to keep connected, and to expand their community.  It’s refreshing.

So, if you find yourself part of a community: in your church, in your city, in your neighborhood or on the World Wide Web, remember its survival depends on open lines of communication.  Sharing our experiences and insights draws us together, so let your voice be heard, but also be willing to listen and consider.