7. A few things that matter – chicken livers, DNA, and perseverance

A few things that matter — chicken livers, DNA,  and perseverance

There’s so much going on in the world – such violence, fear mongering, deceit, pig-headed focus on profit and the mighty dollar … That I need to remind myself of the good.  The things that matter.  Things that matter can come in elaborate packages – and simple ones.

First, my ordinary, every-day example of the kindness of strangers.  Traveling across the country, I watch for gas stations that have a small deli or hot food section. The ones out West serve incredible Mexican food; here in the South, you can get great fried chicken, turnips and cornbread.  (My favorite serves tomato gravy at breakfast!)  I enjoy going to places where I meet real people – working people – people without airs.  And I often encounter them at these small food delis (as well as laundromats, truck stops and rest areas).  I was in my truck, on the way to look at RVs (another story), and too hungry to keep going.  I knew this particular Circle K had really good food, so I stopped.  It was 12:30, and I was #7 in line, with that many more behind me.  With one exception, the line was made up of men with sweat-stained shirts, weather-worn faces, and bodies that spoke of hard manual labor.  They included friends and strangers in their friendly banter and ordered hearty, inexpensive meals. I stood behind the only other woman; I was in my standard jeans and T-shirts; she was wearing a nondescript green cotton uniform with a couple of letters, of no significance to me, embroidered on the front. She stood about 5ft 2 inches tall and was built like a stump – a strong body that in generations past would have plowed a field beside the toughest male.  I asked this stranger if she knew how many sides came with a dinner.  She explained she was in the area on a job assignment but she’d heard the food was good; she was going to order fried chicken livers.  I responded, “My mom loved chicken livers.”  We joked; she explained she was in the food service business and could tell from the smell that these were good livers.  After she paid, she opened her Styrofoam container and said, “I’ve got plenty.  You gotta have one of these.”  And she handed me one of her chicken livers!!  I took it with a surprised laugh and said, “I haven’t had one of these since my mom died in 1999.”  She said, “Hush.  You gonna make me cry.”  I stood right there in the middle of the gas station and ate the fried chicken liver; it was full of memories, smells, and tasted just like my mama’s did.  She was sitting in her car when I went outside; I stopped to say thanks, again.  We talked a bit.  Samon introduced herself and explained she works at the prison in Bay County, teaching cooking, and was in this area overseeing the food service at the local prison.  Samon explained that she feeds the men, helps them learn a trade and manage their finances, and talks with them about how to live without crime.  She said, “It matters that someone listens to them.”  When I told her I was a retired Judge, she just laughed.  We talked about how, in our professions, we each tried to treat those we met with dignity and respect.  I said I seldom had a problem with an inmate in the courtroom. She laughed and said, “I tell them – I have 7 brothers.  I grew up with professional boxers, kick boxers.  What you gonna do to me?  Give me your best shot.”  I had a bailiff; she has confidence and an easy laugh. We share a respect for their humanity, regardless of the circumstances that brought them to that place.  Standing in the asphalt parking lot of a gas station in the Deep South, I met a real person.  As I walked away, I said, “I love you, lady.  And I just met you.”  She called back, “We could be good friends.”  I called out, “Yes! And I’d love for my granddaughter to meet you!”  I came home to my dog, Misty, and told her with a big smile, “She gave me one of her chicken livers!”  Real people matter.

And then a couple of good things, on a much broader scale.  I read today in the Florida Bar News about the Innocence Project of Florida, a nonprofit group that provides legal representation for the wrongfully imprisoned.  This was the story of James Bain who was released after 35 years in a Florida prison for a rape that DNA testing and legal defense clearly demonstrated he did not commit.  He went into prison at age 18.  It’s easy to get lost in the horror of those years lost; it’s important to applaud and support those who do the hard work to bring such injustices to light.  Mr. Bain’s story ran on page 18; for me, it was more real, more important than the preceding pages of stories about elections and politics.

Today I read about the El Salvador Projects, sponsored by the Palo Alto Friends (Quaker) Meeting, Palo Alto, CA.  El Salvador holds the grisly title of the most violent country in the world among countries where no war is going on; it leads the world in violent deaths per capital.  And, rather than returning to live safely with us State-side, Robert Broz chooses to live in El Salvador to follow through with the work his mother Carmen began which includes initiatives in child care, maternal and child health, early education, community development and support for higher education for young people from poor rural families.   Robert does not try to understate the problems or risks in El Salvador, yet he explains “Every child whose dream is made real, every family that takes a significant step away from the desperation of poverty into a more secure future, every young adult whose path leads to a role of positive service and leadership in the community – each of these demonstrates to others that there are realistic alternatives to despair.” More info at Facebook Palo Alto Friends Meeting El Salvador Project and www.pafmelsalvadorprojects.org

It’s good to be reminded that there is good out there.  And, Samon, thanks again for the chicken liver; you never know what a simple act of kindness can mean to a stranger.

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