Thursday, February 10, 2011

Family reunion at the clothing room

This morning, Patrick arrived at the clothing room staggering drunk, with a swollen black eye. I didn't recognize him at first. He stood and looked at me for a while, seemingly trying to focus his eyes and form words. Thinking he might need some assistance, I went to him and touched his arm, asking if there was anything I could help him with.

Wrong move. "Back off," he said. So I went back around my work desk and continued to sort donated clothes, afraid that he might teeter over and bang his other eye on the corner of the desk.

A woman who had brought her two daughters to get clothing for their kids was sitting in the chair across from where I was working. Patrick's swollen eye didn't prevent her from knowing who he was. "Patrick, Bro, what happened to your face?" she asked gently.

"Ah, Sis," he said, "three guys beat me up. I just want to go back to camp and go to sleep. It's been a rough day at the office."

The next thing I knew, the woman was introducing her daughters to Patrick as he stood swaying on his feet, and the girls seemed to know him. That's when I realized that they might be related, but then again, maybe not. The older daughter offered Patrick a cigarette, and the younger one gave him a hug that brought tears to his eyes (and mine).

With those kindnesses, Patrick's defenses crumpled. He turned to me and was able to ask for blankets, socks and a pair of gloves. I managed to find them for him and put them into a bag he could carry. "Thanks, Sis," he said, having long since forgotten his initial annoyance with me.

It has struck me more than once that in the clothing room we're all brothers and sisters -- like we should be everywhere in life.

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