Flickr photo by creativity + Timothy K Hamilton, creative commons
Before I even opened her chain link gate, I could see a wheel chair pulled up to her screen door. A wheel chair? Miss Minnie started using a walker a couple of years ago, and in the last few months she’d moved slower with it, gripping it hard with her liver spotted hands. She was in a wheel chair now? I heard the buzz of flies. They were darting around the bag of garbage she had left on her porch, where I would have to stand.
I braced myself and walked on.
“Hey there, Miss Minnie. It’s Becky, with Meals on Wheels,” I said, and she reached up from her chair to click open the lock.
“Hey,” she said, her voice sounding weaker than usual. “You weren’t here last time. Somebody else came.”
“Yes ma’am. My family went to the beach.”
“Oh, that’s nice.”
I opened the door. She always keeps the lights off when it got hot, and today it was nearly 100 degrees. When my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I tried not to shudder at the sight of her. Three years ago this woman was big boned and vigorous, but today she seems to have shrunk. What happened since I saw her last? Her shirt was misbuttoned, one droopy breast almost hanging out, not that that was anything new. But now there were little red scabs all over her face. I looked down at the bugs scattering across her floor, then to the piles of things on her bed. There were bugs on the sheets too. Were the scabs from bug bites?
This makes me angry. I’d talked with the social worker two times already, trying to convince her that no, the filth wasn’t her own fault, that THE WOMAN CAN’T SEE. She had promised me she’d try to get her some help. Now she’s worse off than before.
“How are you doing today?”
“Oh, I’m here. That’s good enough, I guess.”
“I brought your mail,” I said. “Maybe somebody’s sent you a check!”
That’s our long running joke, that maybe one day there will be a check in her stack of bills.
Miss Minnie laughs. “Do you think you’d have time to help me read these too?” she asks, reaching for some mail on her bed.
“Sure,” I make myself say, remembering that the last time I did this, bugs were feeding on the glue on the envelopes.
Do I really have to do this? I remember when Meals on Wheels was just plain fun, when I could show up like meal Santa, knocking on doors, dropping off meals, and chatting with people.
I consider saying, I’m sorry, Miss Minnie. I can’t today.
But she has no one else.
“Why don’t you come on in,” she says, backing up her wheelchair a foot, until it bumps against her bed.
“That’s okay,” I say, staying in the doorway. “I don’t want to crowd you.” I feel ashamed, but I don’t want to go in her house any farther. It smells today, and I keep imagining mice or rats.
“Can you read these first?” she says, handing me a stack of mail from her bed. A bug scatters across the envelope and falls to the floor.
“Oh Miss Minnie, your bugs are bad today.”
“Are they?” she says, embarrassed. “I’m sorry. I told me niece, but she’s been busy…”
“We need to get you some help,” I say. I tap each piece of mail against the door, to knock off any bugs before I open it. We go through her pile and I tell her what’s junk mail and what’s not. I read all the bills, how much, for what, and when they’re due.
I realize I’m rushing. I just want to get out of there. Please don’t ask me to write checks today. I’m ashamed of myself, but I still want to leave.
“Looks like you got a package,” I say, holding up a puffy envelope.
“Oh, yeah. That’s probably my gun.”
“Yeah.” Miss Minnie laughs, enjoying my shock. “It’s one of those tester things. For my diabetes.”
We laugh as I pull at the envelope. I say that I thought she meant a real gun, and she says, oh no, but she’s thought about buying one with all the break-ins lately. I tell her that she’d better not do that, that somebody would only use it against her.
Finally I manage to rip the package open. “Well, let’s see what you’ve got here,” I say, reaching in. Wrapped in Saran wrap is a box of toothpaste, a new toothbrush and a travel package of Kleenex. I hand it to her and tell her what it is.
“There’s a card,” I say, and read it to her: For Minnie, We’re thinking of you and hope you’re doing well. We love you. Love, Your Church Family
We look at each other for a moment, neither knowing what to say.
Well,” she says as I hand her the card, “isn’t that helpful.”
She looks up at me and we laugh a little.
I look down at her, sitting in the wheel chair, scabs all over her face, bugs crawling over both our shoes, a chamber pot by her bedside, the lights out. I see her cradling the toothpaste and toothbrush and Kleenex in her lap, laughing her weak little laugh.
I want to cry.
And I want to shake someone.
I want to shake myself, that even now, I want so badly to run out of there, get in my car, and zoom back to my clean, bug free life, to a hot shower and antibacterial soap. I want to shake myself for standing in her doorway, flicking at bugs, when I should find a bucket and start scrubbing her floor.
I want to shake that social worker for telling me she’d help and not following through. For it being so hard for me to convince her that it’s not Miss Minnie’s own fault, when the woman has stood in her house and seen it for herself.
I want to shake her niece, who knows full well that she’s the only one Miss Minnie has in the whole wide world, yet she lets her live that way.
And I want to shake her church, a mere half mile away, for staying in the air conditioning and mailing out toothpaste, when she lives in such a desperate state.
I think of Jesus, healing the lepers, putting mud on blind eyes, touching and touching and touching again, and I’m sad that I fall so short.
God, help me. Help me put away my inner people pleaser and fight for this woman. Help me know what to do. And in the future, when I’m tempted to just say have a good day or mail toothpaste, help me look for places I can get down on the floor and scrub. Thank you for challenging me to put my actions where my mouth is.
And what about you, friends? Have you encountered places where it’s difficult to serve, where it’s hard to put your actions where your mouth/heart is?
And what do you think about the responsibility of the church? When family fails to act, is it the church’s job to step in, or is that asking us to be something we’re not?
Have a great weekend, y’all!