Simply Serving the Juice

More than anything, I wish for empathy. For my sons to see that it isn’t always as simple as it looks. That the man who stands in line at the soup kitchen is not there because he wants to be. That the drug addict, missing his front teeth and smelling from too many nights without a shower, was someone’s little boy once. He had plans and dreams and then something happened. And now he thinks about where he’ll eat, where to get a meal, how to fill his belly.

None of it is simple.

My eighth grader comes home after attending a program at school. A motivational speaker has come to talk about drug and alcohol abuse. Chris Herren. An ex-basketball player. And an ex-drug user. The kids don’t know him. They are too young. To them, he is just a man. He is handsome. And successful. He is married. He looks like any other man to them.  He is ok now. This is what they see, the kids. Not the drug addict, missing teeth, needing a shower. They see an adult, another adult telling them what not to do. He turned out ok, my son says. How do you know if you will? he asks.

You don’t, I say. That’s the thing. No one knows.

We serve a meal once each month at a church, my sons and I. It isn’t much. We could do more. But it is something. I like my boys to do it. For many reasons. Empathy, yes. But also because I want them to see that no one ever plans to end up here. At a soup kitchen. Looking for a meal. No one does.

All three boys do not go every month anymore. They did, but things come up. Baseball games. Big tests. Sometimes they don’t go because they don’t want to. It’s alot of work. It’s alot of standing on your feet. It’s easier to stay at home. That’s ok, I tell them. We do what we can.

My youngest son likes to count the people who come. 49, he says at the end of the night. Or 60. Alot this time, he says. The eighth grader is in charge of desserts. He samples them sometimes. They look good. My oldest son serves the juice. It is easy, he says, and he doesn’t like to touch the food.

Sometimes we talk about the people who come. The two men who stand at the front of the line and argue about sports teams.  The woman who walks there in the rain and sits with a big puddle underneath her chair. The man who doesn’t eat pork. Another who brings a meal home to a friend. A friend who can’t walk.

One man tells my middle boy to stay away from Brazilian women. They are bad, he says. My son smiles politely. OK, he promises, I will. Maybe not, I tell him. Maybe some are good. He blushes. Stop it, he says.

My oldest is writing his college essay. Or thinking about it, at least. He doesn’t know what to write or what to say. He is quiet and reserved. He does not like to call attention to himself. He is concerned about  showing off.

That is what a college essay is all about, I tell him. You are supposed to show off.

We read examples, he and I. In books, on websites. There are many. One student quotes Kafka. Who knows Kafka in highschool? Who is Kafka? I look up Kafka. Oh right, I think. Him.

One writes about learning from failure. That makes me sad. Failure. It is tough to feel failure. Especially in highschool.

One essay, about community service, compares serving meals to a warm bubble bath. “I felt content serving the meal, as if I was in a warm bubble bath.”

No, my son says. That is not how it feels. Everyone is dirty and they smell. It doesn’t feel like a warm bubble bath. It is disgusting.

But does it give you a warm feeling?, I ask. A feeling that you are giving back? That you are doing your part? Helping others less fortunate than you?

I don’t really think about it, he says.

Why, then?, I ask. Why do you keep coming?

I just do, he says. I don’t know, he says. Because someone has to serve the juice, he says.

That is true, I say. Someone has to serve the juice, I say. I am glad it is you. My son. I am glad it is you.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top