There is something to be said for familiarity.
I enjoy spending time with the folks who come out to the food ministry each weekend. Since we are friends, I will let you in on a little secret: I enjoy the folks who come for the food — talking and laughing, catching up on the week — more than I do with the folks who bring it. For the most part.
Living on the street is no joke. When someone is missing, it pricks my heart with concern. I want to know they are okay. When people who haven’t been around for a while show up, it is joy.
I haven’t seen Gorta or her human parents in two weeks. It’s been about three or four since I’ve seen Robin, her husband, and their wonderful pit bull. Ms. Viv wasn’t there today either.
I spent more time talking with Pinky. As we chatted, her bag hit the pavement, breaking the bottle of soy sauce she had in there. Dismayed, she removed the broken pieces as sauce drained into the sunlight. She showed me the handmade Thai outfit (so she said it was) she had in her belongings. ‘I always get my clothes hand-made by Thai people if I can. Much better quality.’ I told her I liked it because it was blue, my favorite color. ‘Mine, too,’ she answered. ‘Next time I go to the Thai clothing market up near San Gabriel, I will have one made for you.’
After sharing that she was lactose and wheat intolerant, she offered me the box of cereal that had come in her giveaway box. When I declined, she suggested I take it for my family, my children. I told her my only son was out of the house and it was just me. She was surprised to learn that I was an only child. She made me laugh out loud with a sound that was a combination of a donkey and Julia Roberts. ‘You look like a married woman who doesn’t work and whose husband takes care of her,’ she pronounced. I explained that while I had been married (twice) I handle my own and have worked since I was 16. When she discovered that I had not only gone to college but had spent about 11 years in those hallowed halls to get a doctorate and post-doc certificate, she was blown away. ‘I dropped out of five colleges,’ she said. ‘I only have an AA.’ She removed her sunglasses. ‘You should have a broken arm from patting yourself on the back!’
Cue the donkey + Julia Roberts laugh again. I bet you heard it at your house that time.
She said she would refer to me as ‘Doctor’ going forward, despite my protestations. ‘You deserve that honor! You earned it! By the way, what do you do?’
My friend, the pastor’s wife, jumped in. ‘She is a professor.’
Pinky looked shocked. I replied, ‘Yes, teaching college students is my day job.’ I winked. And as long as you don’t call me late for dinner or out my name, it’s all love. If you refer to me as your sister, that is the biggest honor you could bestow because that comes from the heart.’ She took nodded but as she pushed her little cart whilst leaving she called over her shoulder: ‘Safe travels, Dr. Andree’. I replied with a bow and said that God willing, I would see her next weekend.
I chuckled as her words came back to me about the broken arm from patting myself on the back. I could go round, insisting people address me by the title. I know people like that. Here’s another secret: Ew. That’s what such behavior makes me say. Now don’t get me wrong — as a member of the academy, there are times when we ‘have’ to use the title, like when we address one another in front of students. I think that’s crap as well, but it’s probably because I don’t come from a family of well-to-do folk who like to trot their titles in front of others. Or maybe it’s because I’m just some near-the-beach-born hippie-ish woman, who recognizes clearly that she is just a small mouse dashing about, trying to stay safe from traps, in a world filled with danger and pleasure alike.
There are times when we need to be the bigger mouse, the one who isn’t ashamed of the past, who enjoys what each day brings, and looks forward with anticipation to what the future might offer.
Being the bigger mouse means always remembering you are a mouse. A cat, bat, or rat could take you out. A bird of prey. A hungrier mouse. A raccoon, because they have hands after all. Whatever. Don’t think more of yourself than you are. Don’t diminish yourself either though — a mouse, if cornered, will often try to swell up or shrink down, depending on the circumstance. Know your limits.
But above all, try to love the other mouses in your houses. You never know how much you might bring to their day by being just another mouse. It’s the mice who think more of themselves that get eaten. Or worse.
Just show the love. Think before you speak. Like the body needs physical stimulation, the mind needs a workout as well; being open and kind to others regularly, even when we don’t feel like it, is a great exercise. When you do all that, you are the bigger mouse.