December 16, 2009

a lot to be thankful for

November 28, 2009 7:30pm

Wow! What an awesome weekend I’ve had so far! Before I get into any of that, I have to write out an experience that I had this morning before I forget it. It was very cool, and I want to be able to look back and remember it.

I was standing outside in front B and D’s garage this morning, having a cigarette with J, and he made a comment about all the birds roosted in the top of a large tree across the street. There were hundreds of birds in this tree, and the cacophony of voices was almost overwhelming. Luckily, they were far enough away that they weren’t too distracting or annoying, but it really was a sight to behold.

As J and I continued to talk about whatever, we were both struck by an instantaneous and eerie silence. At the exact same moment, every bird stopped their singing/tweeting/complaining completely and took flight. It was like someone had hit the pause button on nature’s soundtrack. J and I stood awestruck at the sight of such a large flock of birds taking flight at the same time, and commented on how remarkably silent it was after all the noise the birds had been making previously. I was astounded.

Then I was scared.

Hundreds of birds flying overhead tends to make me nervous that I’m going to be shit on, so we quickly ducked under an overhang to protect ourselves, just in case. They were in the air for less than 90 seconds, and then they all went back to the same tree and resumed their noisemaking.

At any rate, I just thought that was really cool and worth remembering. As far as the rest of the weekend, it was much like that moment. Something I’ll want to remember for a long time to come. Even if I couldn’t think of a thing to be thankful for on Thursday morning, that certainly isn’t the case now, on Saturday night.

The community meal at church was absolutely incredible. We actually got there about half an hour later than we were supposed to, but it didn’t turn out to be a big deal. Talk about a strong showing. There were actually too many volunteers! We got started setting up tables in the gym around 8:30, and I’m pretty sure we had the tables and chairs up, with tablecloths spread, all by 9:00. That was awesome. The only problem was, other than decorating and finishing up the meal, there really wasn’t anything else to do until 12:30, when we would have a quick little meeting to make sure everyone knew their job and what was going on before we opened the doors at 1:00.

Some volunteers left as they finished their prep-work in the kitchen, and others decided to leave and come back when it was actually time to serve. I don’t think 15 minutes went by without at least one volunteer walking in the door. It was incredible! So many people wanted to help. It was unfortunate that not everyone could help, but I was so happy to see that we had more people willing to help than the other way around.

Someone had a brilliant idea to have a few of the kids that were there draw “hand turkeys” on the tables for decorations (and to keep them busy). Before long all the kids and a handful of adults were drawing and coloring in turkeys and all sorts of other decorations on all the tables.

We then had a bit of a lull in activity while we waited for the real work to begin, so we were passing around newspapers and sales fliers and just sort of hanging out when we realized that the decorations on the tables were rubbing of on our skin and clothes. This was not good. We were about to have over 100 guests come in for a meal, and the decorations were going to stain their skin and clothes! The markers were apparently washable, even though the box didn’t indicate that fact. So while it was good that it was washing off of our hands and arms, it was bad that it wasn’t sticking to the plastic tablecloths and would ruin what could be some people’s only clothes.

Several ideas were tossed back and forth, including turning the tablecloths over. They were just the cheap disposable kind, so you could actually see the decorations through the other side, though not as well. The only problem was, the marker was rubbing off on the tables as well, and since the tables were white plastic, we were afraid that the heat and friction from the plates would “set” the mark into the tabletops permanently.

We even tried putting paper placemats under the tablecloths before flipping them over, but we didn’t have enough placemats to cover all the tables. Unfortunately, we had to wipe off all that hard work. The kids who did the majority of the work had already left with their parents, and we hoped that they weren’t planning to come back to help serve, as they would have been devastated. As it was, we were all pretty bummed too, because those kids did one heck of a job. Fortunately, our youth advisor had a camera on her phone and Cody was able to take pictures of most of the artwork before it was erased.

This whole fiasco wound up being a blessing in disguise, however, since we ended up with even more kids as the morning wore on. Armed with permanent markers this time around, we set them loose for a marathon of table decorating. Pretty much everyone helped this time around, and we all had a blast doing it. Luckily, the first group never did come back, so it turned out that all the kids who showed up throughout the course of the day were able to help out in a fun, but still very tangible way.

Once 12:30 rolled around though, it was time for our quick little organizational meeting, and then it was off to the races. We were actually able to get everyone into place and ready to go in time to open up the doors a bit early, and then it was non-stop action for over an hour. Some people were a bit antsy because there were so many volunteers that it didn’t seem like they all had enough to do at times, although I think those in charge did an absolutely excellent job of keeping everyone moving and assigning tasks, even while taking care of their own jobs.

I did get a bit of insight into how frustrating it can be when people who are trying to help can be a bit too pushy, but I don’t want to focus on that. It all got smoothed out and under control in short order anyway, so I’d rather focus on all the pleasant things that happened.

We were filling and sending plates out of the kitchen non-stop for about an hour and twenty minutes before it eventually slowed to a trickle, and that means a lot of mouths were fed on Thursday. That is an awesome thing to be a part of. If you’ve never helped out doing something like that, I highly recommend it.

I actually had a blast doing it, too! I got to work with a couple of people that I didn’t know very well before that, and they were both awesome. R is actually the partner of one of the guys Cody works with at the food bank, and he and I got along “famously” as they say. He’s a frickin’ riot, to be honest. He was going back and forth with me and the lady we were working with, who was actually the coordinator of the whole she-bang, which set both of us a little more at ease. She was stressed over making sure everything went well, and I was stressed over, well, that’s just what I do. So I think it’s great that R was standing where he was, as he set the tone for our side of the kitchen and made it possible for us to do our jobs with true joy and thanksgiving. Before I knew it, it was 3:00 and time for Cody and I to beat feet so we could make it to his mother’s in time for our own Thanksgiving dinner.

I really didn’t know what to expect going into this event on Thursday. I know people get a sense of satisfaction from doing those kinds of things, and I’ve experienced a similar feeling through volunteering in other capacities before. Yet I felt so overwhelmingly blessed to have been a part, no matter how small, and I think it is due in large part to those around me and their own attitudes of joy in service. I don’t know that I’ll help with the meals at church every month, but I’m certainly going to start doing it at least on occasion.

After two hours in a hot kitchen dishing up meals, dinner with Cody’s family was a breeze. Actually, we always have a good time with the rest of his family (as long as no one brings up politics), so that really wasn’t a surprise. By the time Cody and I got home though, we were thoroughly whooped!

Friday morning we just kind of putzed around the house for a bit and then it was off to Bowling Green to visit our friends. Bethany’s family were all staying at her parents house in BG, and they were kind enough to invite us up for the weekend as well. Having other engagements, we were only able to stay one night, but what a riot!

We got there shortly after 1:00 Friday afternoon, and it was non-stop fun from that point on. First, Bethany’s dad, B, gave us the grand tour of the house, and when I say “grand”, I mean GRAND. Not only is the house huge and beautiful, but B is one hell of a tour guide. We didn’t just get the simple little, “Here’s the bedroom. Here’s the other bedroom” kind of tour. He gave us the ins and outs of every room in the house, including all the architectural features and the more significant art and furniture pieces like where they bought it and what it was made of, etc.

The house is incredible, and I’ve never been in a home with that sort of layout, so it was very unique as well. The bathroom takes the cake though. When they bought the house, there was a full bath in the master suite, but they decided to add on and expand the bathroom and closet. I have never seen a bathroom like that in real life. If ever I could afford a room at a resort and spa, I imagine that is what the bathroom would look like. B was going over a lot of the features and why they chose them, and his attention to detail is just astounding. But we didn’t drive all the way to BG just to see their bathroom.

Once we were done with the tour, we headed down to the basement to play Wii with B, Bethany, J and his daughters, K and S. Okay, so Cody played Wii; I just watched. What seems like a mild-mannered and loving, if slightly sarcastic family quickly changes into something altogether different once you turn on the Wii, let me tell you. Everyone was talking smack like a professional, including the girls making some very hysterical smart-ass comments to B. It was a riot!

Then the real fun, for me at least, began. It was time to decorate the Christmas trees!!! (Yes, trees, plural; they have three. I wasn’t so jealous and envious of the bathroom as I was of their having more than one tree.) The kids were grumbling a bit about having to decorate, but I was having a blast. And since it wasn’t my tree, I felt free to not be such a perfectionist and just relaxed and hung ornaments wherever I found room until B declared us all finished. It really was a lot of fun.

We then went downstairs to play a bit more until it was time for dinner. And what a dinner it was. The whole dinner was fantastic, but honestly the ham loaf and sweet potatoes were out of this world. Anyone who knows me well can tell you that meatloaf is my favorite food group, but this ham loaf is almost tied for the top spot it was so good! And seeing as I had never had sweet potatoes that didn’t come out of a can before, having fresh ones for dinner was quite the treat.

As we were starting desert, including a cake for Bethany’s Uncle J to celebrate a birthday that had passed while he was away, Bethany’s mom noticed the birthday card that Bethany had given Cody. She asked me about it, and when I told her that it was indeed Cody’s birthday, she ran to find a card for him and put a candle in his slice of cheesecake. We all sang “Happy Birthday” a second time, and I think Cody was genuinely tickled.

A couple of years ago, Cody barely knew Bethany and was quite gracious in agreeing to go all the way to Cincinnati so we could visit and spend the night with one of my ex-girlfriends. Now, he realizes not only how much more she means to me, but her entire family have been so astronomically gracious and loving to both of us that he really is moved by their kindness when they include us in their plans and treat us like family.

After dinner and Pete’s arrival (finally!), we headed outside so Cody, Bethany and I could have a sit in the hot tub. It was really nice, though I couldn’t stay in for very long because the heat makes it hard for me to breathe after a while. I think the high point was definitely when Cody pulled his swimsuit out of the water. The look on Bethany’s face and the noises coming out of her mouth were priceless and set Cody into a fit of giggles I haven’t heard in quite some time.

By the time we all got dried off and changed out of our swimsuits, we were starting to wind down quite a bit. We chatted for a while and had these yummy breadstick/foldover/pizza thingies that apparently everyone in BG is addicted too because we were all apparently not yet stuffed full enough of food yet. When we got done, pretty much all of us had that “Why did I just eat that?” look on our faces.

A little more Wii, and then it was most definitely time for bed. Cody didn’t even make it that long. He crashed out on the couch about halfway into it. By the time Pete had to leave, we were all pretty much drained and went to our respective beds to crash. For some reason, my body decided to sleep until 10:00 this morning, and for an even more baffling reason, Cody decided to let it. I wasn’t very happy when he woke me up by saying, “It’s almost 10:00”, and given the fact that I’m not really a morning person anyway, I was kinda peeved when I woke up.

Seeing as there were eleven other people in the house besides us, I didn’t really have the luxury of being a grouch this morning. Since we had slept in the basement, that meant if I wanted a cigarette or a cup of coffee (when don’t I?), I needed to put on my happy face and walk upstairs to greet them all. All in all, it wasn’t so bad, but if I can’t sleep tonight because Cody let me sleep in too long, I think I might just have to toss and turn just enough to keep him up too….

1 comment:

Tim said...

Jake, not sure if this is a new or old post, but I loved every word of it. It makes me very happy in all kinds of ways.

Someday, I'll bore you to tears with my story of a fund-raising dinner the kids in my French class threw. It had all the markings of complete disaster. Expecting more than half the ticket holders wouldn't show due to a big championship softball game, we served double portions to get rid of the food. Then, they all showed up as we were clearing the tables. Let's just say we managed to work wonders with leftovers...

Thanks for sharing this. It triggered fun (and shameless) memories.