I’ve see seen a lot of road and lots of stuff on our retirment tour; almost six thousand miles and many, many dozens of cities and sites. Surely, so far, we have chosen our favorite sites, parks, campgrounds, restaurant’s and roads. But we have also had fun and emotional experiences along the way.
I must tell you about this one event, not that you need to know, but more that I may remember. I must tell you how much I love poor people. I know this could sound upish, philosophical, religious or even arrogantly superior, but just hear me out!
The scriptures say “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The lesson is not, “blessed are the poor!” I try not to get these concepts mixed up! To be clear, to be dirt poor is not a blessing, it’s more like a state of being and if you agree I think you’re spot on. But also remember the scriptures say, it is extremely hard for the rich person, in his or her state of being, to enter heaven! Since I’m presently in Louisiana, and historically it’s a bit French here, please remember the bourgeoisie, those with perceived materialistic values who typically have the same conventional attitudes as most Americans. You and I may actually be included along with the rich, comparativly speaking. In fact, in a worldly sense, most of us middle class and rich folks alike think we are badly designed by circumstance. We think we deserve more! Some of us think only the poor, who live in poverty, cannot help themselves. I think it is us who cannot help ourselves and it is God who allows so many of us to live priviledged although to be unsatisfied lives. So we must ask, who among us is truly blessed?
This is where our Metro van joins the story. That crazy odd, old, delivery van created for noble purposes has brought us in contact with all kinds and classes of people. Now let me say again, I love the poor, but this time I’ll add, the “poor in spirit,” (please note it is usually the poor who have the “spirit” part). Yes, it is ironic fun to have people in million dollar RV’s wander over to our campsite to tell us how cool our van is. And it is nice to relate with people on familiar grounds or interests. However, for Jackie and I, it is immensely more gratifying to have the poorest of the poor run up to us with the most satisfying grin and tell us how much they like our van and share a bit of their lives. Toothless and dressed in the sloppiest rags the poor are. And we have met the most joy filled of these folks ever; and all because we have a silly looking old van. Can you understand this? It is actually humbling! What have we done to reach out to such people as these? It’s not that we have not tried. We just don’t live where they live. We only see the ones with cardboard signs at Home Depot begging for money or in tent village’s in big cities, places we would rightfuly avoid. It’s our opinion that most of these are not happy. I’m not trying to belittle their situations or make a political statement. We simply don’t, intentionally, drive to ghetto’s or bad sections in cities: come on, I live in Montana!
Along the way on this journey it was rather important to stop in the “bad sections” of towns. When we need gas or need to eat we often end up in minority and/or poor states, counties and neighborhoods. Our van has provided us with cover and an open door to meet and converse with all sorts, but I must say the happiest smiles and the biggest grins have come in these places, and from the most joyous of souls, the poor in spirit!
To further describe what I have seen with my own eyes take this one fellow we met in Gulfport Mississippi. We needed gas, and just before we reached the coast (where all the nice million dollar houses are), we pulled into a gas station. Within seconds a lady appeared to the rear of my van as I was about to put my credit card into the pump. She said, “Excuse me sir, I’m not homeless, but could you spare me some money to get home, I’m out of gas?” I noticed she only had two front teeth, the rest had rotted out. She appeared to be my age, but I would guess she was probably much younger. She said, “I’ll give you this neckless, I don’t want to just take your money.” She repeated, “You know I’m not a homeless person, my husband is across the street at the auto parts store in our car. I just need enough money to make it back home to Ocean Springs.” I looked at her with what must have been curious eyes, I’d not heard this one before. I gave her five dollars and in a few seconds she was gone. I didn’t think much more about it, scammed or not, it was only five bucks. I then proceeded to put my credit card into the pump. It wouldn’t take. The pump displayed in bold type that I had to pre-pay inside (note when this happens, you are probally not in a great neighborhood). I was starting to think the neighborhood could need some love. I went inside and talked with the cashier. She was cold, uncaring, and miserably unfriendly. She said I could pre pay my gas and if I overpaid the prepay the balance the difference would be credited to my card. I bought it! But later we checked our bank statement and found out it did not work that way. Luckily, I only overpaid by six bucks.
Now the relative story. Just as I finished pumping my premium gas, a short black man appeared next to me. I was now in my van seat, door open. “Man! What kind of vehicle is dat?” he asked. This is the guy with the big smile, the grin from ear to ear. He went on and we had a great conversation about our van. It didn’t last too long and he didn’t have an agenda, he was simply joy filled and was an interesting character. He responded like he had just seen a famous vehicle from his favorite childhood movie. I wanted to know this guy! He had that “poor in spirit” thing going on.
After our conversation and as we pulled away our new acquaintance got back to merrily searching for and collecting aluminum cans from the garbage bins. It was at that moment, just as we pulled away from the pump that my eyes teared up, and I said to Jackie, “I love poor people.”
In a strange sort of way the poor in spirit have rich lives. Every day is an adventure. They live, they laugh, they hunger and thirst. Most have a joy indescribable, and when you meet them they somehow make you happy and sad at the very same moment.
From that gas station, it was not more than a few blocks to the “scenic Old Spanish Trail Hwy on the gulf coast where all the huge mansions lined street and they went on and on for miles and miles. We could not see the poor, dirty, neighborhoods just a few blocks deep behind these fantastic, beautiful homes; but I knew that was were there true happiness, even real holiness often resides.
My prayer this easter sunday is for the Lord to help me to better understand and experience this kind of joy. Help me to lay aside bitterness and not judge unfairly the circumstances of others. Yes, I am grateful for my blessings, but help me become more like the man at the gas station, the one who stood out from the rest, the man poor in spirt and full of joy!
We are not sure where we are heading next, it will probably be somewhere near Galveston. Then on to San Antonio, Austin, Waco, then Dallas. After that, Steve and Sandy, Brownwood. See you soon!