Standing in the middle of the kitchen with mayo, mustard, bread and cold cuts spread out before me, my attention was drawn to the front door as it abruptly swung open.
In swaggered my five year old with a smug smirk asking, “Is it lunchtime?”
I replied in the affirmative.
That’s when he flashed his full toothy grin in my direction and informed, “I already had my lunch. I got it at the dump!”
He placed full emphasis on that last word, dump, like it was synonymous with The Russian Tea Room.
“EEK!” I thought, “I hope he doesn’t go spreading that around.” Imagine what everyone would think. Images of poor, orphan Oliver (“Please, sir, may I have some more porridge”) sprang to mind. Or perhaps family would conjure up ideas of my young son being hoisted into the dumpster to fetch half-eaten sandwiches to satiate his hunger. Oh, they already have ample material to ponder, considering we are raising 8 children on a single income. I needed to squelch his enthusiasm before he had the chance to scar our reputation. We have an image to uphold, you know.
Okay, rewind, an explanation is in order. We decided long ago that it made far more sense to haul our own trash to the local dump rather than pay the exorbitant fee to have a waste disposal company haul part of it there on our behalf (because they don’t carry recycled materials, yard waste, etc.). So, about once every two weeks or so, my husband loads our tow-behind trailer with the accumulated debris and drives across town.
Our youngest ones seem to find strange enjoyment accompanying daddy for this stinky task, although we’d like to think it has more to do with the privilege of hanging with daddy than the destination. We’ve actually crafted a song to sing while we’re en route (we home schoolers roll like that). But at no point have we ever considered dining at the dump.
Well, until last Saturday it would seem.
My dutiful husband was making the weekend chore rounds when three of our youngest children begged to keep him company. While watching dad unload the trash bins from the trailer, the children attracted the attention of a Brown Bag Ministry volunteer. This ministry packs brown paper bags with nutritious lunches and distributes them to the homeless. On this particular Saturday, not all of the lunch bags were claimed by the needy so the volunteer had leftovers to discard. I imagine he, like me, hated to see good food go to waste and that’s where my kids fit in.
Seeing them joyfully jostling about (no doubt) in our big, pro-life stickered van, the BB ministry volunteer decided to offer the excess midday meals to the children. They were thrilled by the unexpected gifts and gladly accepted three bags stuffed with sandwiches, bananas, crackers and cookies. I imagine the giver was delighted to have recipients for the extra bounty as well as to have the chance to elicit 3 extra smiles.
All the details were quite irrelevant to my sassy son, who was simply proud to boast of the surprise blessing he’d received. Admittedly, he’d chosen the better part- to find joy from someone’s small act of kindness, nothing more, nothing less. He didn’t have preconceived notions, stereotypes or prejudices attached to his acceptance. Lunch at the dump might as well have been dining at a four star restaurant as far as he was concerned.
My son’s response was an invitation to, as St. Therese of Lisieuxbeckoned, “just be little”. To recall the world as we once did and to allow that gentle simplicity to guide our actions. That’s why spending time in the presence of children is so encouraging because they often have much to teach us.