Wednesday, April 23, 2014


I was just at church, dropping off stuff for a rummage sale. My friend Sue was there planning Sunday school lessons so I stood and talked to her for a while. When I walked back downstairs to get another load, I could smell that someone else was in the church. It wasn't a good smell - sweat, cigarettes, and something else. I didn't like the something else smell.

I looked around, knowing that if someone had just walked into the church, I wanted to see who it was before I left my friend upstairs alone. No one was in the kitchen. No one was in the sanctuary. I walked into the nursery and saw a pile of things collected for the sale. The smell was stronger there. I was looking at the boxes of stuff, wondering if that's what smelled when I realized that someone was in the bathroom. I didn't want to get backed into that room with someone I didn't know in there with me, someone who carried that smell with him.

When I was a kid, my dad used to tell me as he drove that I should always look for the way through. He didn't like the Jersey barriers along a road's shoulder because it didn't leave him the openings that he wanted. He would have hated driving in New York and New Jersey. That idea, of looking for the way through, has saved my life on the road more than once. It turns out that if you have that mindset, your car generally follows the direction your eyes take. If you tend to look at obstacles, you're more likely to hit them. If you look for the route through, that's where you'll find yourself. Through.

I think that's how I see life too. I look for the way through trouble. Being in that room was not going to give me a way through.

So, as I headed out to the narthex, I saw a guy coming in that I knew. He's homeless, but he's been around for a while and he always seems to have a smile on his face. He might smell like a campfire and a bit like cigarettes, but he wasn't too bad. Mostly. I'm still cautious around him.

I walked toward my car to get another load of rummage.

"Hey, would it be okay if I got a granola bar out of the food pantry?" he asked me.

"I don't have anything to do with that. You'll have to ask the minister," I said. Then, I thought about food I carry for Nick in my car. I could give him something of mine. I opened the car door and leaned into my car to get the Ziploc bag out of my pack. Tuna salad and applesauce.

When I turned around, there were two men behind me, the guy I was giving food to and someone else. The someone else didn't have a smile on his face and he was the one with the wicked smell. Drugs. Alcohol. I swear, people begin to smell differently when they're addicted. Have you ever noticed that? I took a deep breath and pushed past them and firmly closed my car door. I had broken the cardinal rule. Look for the way through.

"I have stuff I need to bring back inside," I said.  I was still thinking of my friend upstairs. I didn't want to leave her alone with these two men.

"Do you need us to carry anything?" the smiling one asked.

"Uh, no. I'm okay. Uh, well, alright." It didn't feel as dangerous to lift a hatch as to get stuck inside an open car door. The two men stood while I loaded them up with bags. I grabbed a bag and decided the rest could wait. I slammed the hatch and locked my car with my key fob. I breathed easier to have these two walking ahead of me instead of behind me.

"There are some breakables in some of these bags, so be careful. And say hi to Sue when you go up the stairs so you don't surprise her," I said loudly enough for Sue to hear. I watched the guys as they put the bags down in a spare room. Something was going to be broken in those bags, I could tell but I knew I needed to let it go.

Then, the guy I had just met went to an opposite door and tried it. Locked. I can't tell you how much I hated that. What right did he have to check behind doors? He turned back to face me. He took two steps toward me and I wanted to back up a pace.

"Do you know who I could talk to about getting some traveling money?" he asked. The light in his eyes told me that he wasn't looking for bus tickets.

"I'm not sure if anyone here can help you with that," I said. He looked at Sue in the room. I didn't want him to go in there with her. I set down my bag and heard him asking her the same question. I was grateful that she had the same answer as I had. She also told them to check later with the minister.

After they'd gone back outside, I went back into the room with Sue and asked if she wanted me to hang around for a little longer with her or lock the door behind me.

"Oh honey, I carry my gun in this little purse. I'm good."

Well, church ladies sure can surprise you. I just hope she doesn't have to surprise the strange man with the dangerous smell.

Thank you for listening, jules

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