A new perspective after receiving gifts from strangers

Morgan Hill Wind Symphony member Don Londgren brings his soup in on a little green wagon to feed the homeless.

On a recent Monday night, I was serving soup to the homeless at the National Guard Armory temporary winter shelter in Gilroy when an older petite red-headed woman caught my eye.
She said her name was simply Jenann. With a lovely smile and dressed in a soft rose-colored sweater and olive green knit pants, she looked like she could be anybody’s grandma. She was in a wheelchair, but she was able to walk for short periods of time. She left her wheelchair behind to go take a shower.
When she came out of the bathroom, most of the 80 or so homeless had already been served, and unfortunately we had run out of soup. I went to my car for my emergency stash of soup cans, and we began opening the cans and pouring them into our just-washed pots to heat up a second batch. It wouldn’t be homemade, but at least more folks could be fed.
The soft-spoken and gentle Jenann had gone to the back of the line after her shower and was patiently waiting, but I was aware that most of the early crowd had already gone through once and were back for seconds. My team insisted that Jenann come to the front of the line to be served.
“Oh, I couldn’t do that,” she protested. “I don’t want to be rude.”
I went to the back of the line and led her up to the front, where we gave her a steaming hot bowl of chicken soup, which she shyly agreed to. A warm smile lit up her face. Awhile later, after she had eaten, she came up to me and, in what was almost a whisper, said, “I have something for you.”
I tried to imagine what a homeless person could possibly give me. She took me aside and said how grateful she was for our kindness toward her in this time of need in her life. Then she looked down at her hand that was closed tightly in a fist.
“I just want to say thank you,” she said. Then she opened her hand unobtrusively and slipped a small object into my palm. I looked down and I felt a lump come to my throat as I realized that she had given the only thing she had to give … a tiny Hersey chocolate bar wrapped in gold foil. That moved me beyond what I could say!
We just smiled at each other and hugged, and then we hugged again. Volunteering with the homeless was no effort at all that night. We felt a common bond, a moment when the love of a higher power spilled out and overwhelmed us.
I carefully brought the tiny, foil-wrapped candy home and placed it in the ring box where I have kept my mother’s gold wedding band since she passed away. She was the kind of person who would have been the first to help anyone in need and liked to say that it could be you or I who might need a helping hand someday.
She said that when she served others, she was the one who was rewarded more in return.
Later that evening, a homeless man with a missing front tooth named Roberto came up to thank our team for serving soup.
“It was muy bueno,” he said, rubbing his stomach in concentric circles with a big grin on his face.
He handed me a small paper plate with lavender flowers drawn around the edge. In the middle, the words “Matthew 7:12” were written in black ink. When I got home, I looked up the Bible verse that Roberto had given me in his shaky handwriting.
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
I thought about Roberto’s message to me and its rule-of-thumb guide for behavior. Ask yourself what you want people to do for you. Then take the initiative and do it for them. That sums up the entire owner’s manual for saintliness.
Not a bad way to kick off Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season this week.

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