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I Want That One
I heard a story once about a farmer who had some puppies for sale. He made a sign advertising the pups and nailed it to a post on the edge of his yard. As he was nailing the sign to the post, he felt a tug on his overalls. He looked down to see a little boy with a big grin and something in his hand.
"Mister," he said, "I want to buy one of your puppies."
"Well," said the farmer, "these puppies come from fine parents and cost a good deal."
The boy dropped his head for a moment, then looked back up at the farmer and said, "I've got thirty-nine cents. Is that enough to take a look?"
"Sure," said the farmer, and with that he whistled and called out, "Dolly. Here, Dolly." Out from the doghouse and down the ramp ran Dolly followed by four little balls of fur. The little boy's eyes danced with delight.
Then out from the doghouse peeked another little ball; this one noticeably smaller. Down the ramp it slid and began hobbling in an unrewarded attempt to catch up with the others. The pup was clearly the runt of the litter.
The little boy pressed his face to the fence and cried out, "I want that one," pointing to the runt.
The farmer knelt down and said, "Son, you don't want that puppy. He will never be able to run and play with you the way you would like."
With that the boy reached down and slowly pulled up one leg of his trousers. In doing so herevealed a steel brace running down both sides of his leg attaching itself to a specially made shoe. Looking up at the farmer, he said, "You see, sir, I don't run too well myself, and he will need someone who understands."
He Needed a Son
The nurse escorted a tired, anxious young man to the bedside of an elderly man. "Your son is here," she whispered to the patient. She had to repeat the words several times before the patient's eyes opened. He was heavily sedated because of the pain of his heart attack and he dimly saw the young man standing outside the oxygen tent.
He reached out his hand and the young man tightly wrapped his fingers around it, squeezing a message of encouragement. The nurse brought a chair next to the bedside. All through the night the young man sat holding the old man's hand and offering gentle words of hope. The dying man said nothing as he held tightly to his son.
As dawn approached, the patient died. The young man placed on the bed the lifeless hand he had been holding, then he went to notify the nurse. While the nurse did what was necessary, the young man waited. When she had finished her task, the nurse began to offer words of sympathy to the young man. But he interrupted her.
"Who was that man?" he asked.
The startled nurse replied, "I thought he was your father."
"No, he was not my father," he answered. "I never saw him before in my life."
"Then why didn't you say something when I took you to him?" asked the nurse.
He replied, "I also knew he needed his son, and his son just wasn't here. When I realized he was too sick to tell whether or not I was his son, I knew how much he needed me."
Fiorello LaGuardia was mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of World War II. He was called by adoring New Yorkers "the Little Flower" because he was only five-foot-four and always wore a carnation in his lapel. He was a colorful character who used to ride the New York City fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the police department, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids.
One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter's husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. "It's a bad neighborhood, your Honor," the man told the mayor. "She's got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson."
LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said, "I've got to punish you. The law makes no exceptionsten dollars or ten days in jail." But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous sombrero saying: "Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant."
So the following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.
* * *
Touched by a loving heart,
Wakened by kindness
Chords that were broken,
Will vibrate once more.
R. C. Sproul
I had a college student who was a victim of cerebral palsy. He was able to walk, but with great difficulty as his legs and arms would fly in all directions, out of control of the motor impulses which make walking a normally simple task. His speech was slurred, slow and agonizing, demanding great concentration on the part of the listener to understand. There was nothing wrong with his mind, however, and his sparkling personality and spontaneous smile were an inspiration to his classmates and to all who encountered him.
One day he came to me vexed by a problem and asked me to pray for him. In the course of the prayer, I said something routine, with words like, "Oh, God, please help this man as he wrestles with his problem." When I opened my eyes the student was quietly weeping.
I asked him what was wrong and he stammered his reply, "You called me a manno one has ever called me a man before."
* * *
When I was quite young, my family had one of the first telephones in our neighborhood. I remember well the polished oak case fastened to the wall on the lower stair landing. The shiny receiver hung on the side of the box. I even remember the number105. I was too little to reach the telephone, but used to listen with fascination when my mother talked to it. Once she lifted me up to speak to my father, who was away on business. Magic!
Then I discovered that somewhere inside that wonderful device lived an amazing personher name was "Information Please" and there was nothing she did not know. My mother could ask her for anybody's number; when our clock ran down, Information Please immediately supplied the right time.
My first personal experience with this genie-in-the-receiver came one day while my mother was visiting a neighbor. Amusing myself at the toolbench in the basement, I whacked my finger with a hammer. The pain was terrible, but there didn't seem to be much use crying because there was no one home to offer sympathy. I walked around the house sucking my throbbing finger, finally arriving at the stairway. The telephone! Quickly I ran for the footstool in the parlor and dragged it to the landing. Climbing up, I unhooked the receiver and held it to my ear. "Information Please," I said into the mouthpiece just above my head.
A click or two, and a small, clear voice spoke into my ear. "Information."
"I hurt my fingerrr" I wailed into the phone. The tears came readily enough, now that I had an audience.
"Isn't your mother home?" came the question.
"Nobody's home but me," I blubbered.
"Are you bleeding?"
"No," I replied. "I hit it with the hammer and it hurts."
"Can you open your ice box?" she asked. I said I could.
"Then chip off a little piece of ice and hold it to your finger. That will stop the hurt. Be careful when you use the ice pick," she admonished. "And don't cry. You'll be all right."
After that, I called Information Please for everything. I asked for help with my geography and she told me where Philadelphia was, and the Orinocothe romantic river I was going to explore when I grew up. She helped me with my arithmetic, and she told me that a pet chipmunkI had caught him in the park just the day beforewould eat fruit and nuts.
And there was the time that Petey, our pet canary, died. I called Information Please and told her the sad story. She listened, then said the usual things grown-ups say to soothe a child. But I was unconsoled: Why was it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy to whole families, only to end up as a heap of feathers feet up, on the bottom of a cage?
She must have sensed my deep concern, for she said quietly, "Paul, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in."
Somehow I felt better.
Another day I was at the telephone. "Information," said the now familiar voice.
"How do you spell fix?" I asked.
"Fix something? F-I-X."
At that instant my sister, who took unholy joy in scaring me, jumped off the stairs at me with a banshee shriek"Yaaaaaaaaaa!" I fell off the stool, pulling the receiver out of the box by the roots. We were both terrifiedInformation Please was no longer there, and I was not at all sure that I hadn't hurt her when I pulled the receiver out.
Minutes later there was a man on the porch. "I'm a telephone repairman. I was working down the street and the operator said there might be some trouble at this number." He reached for the receiver in my hand. "What happened?"
I told him.
"Well, we can fix that in a minute or two." He opened the telephone box, exposing a maze of wires and coils, and fiddled for a while with the end of the receiver cord, tightening things with a small screwdriver. He jiggled the hook up and down a few times, then spoke into the phone. "Hi, this is Pete. Everything's under control at 105. The kid's sister scared him and he pulled the cord out of the box."
He hung up, smiled, gave me a pat on the head and walked out the door.
All this took place in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. Then, when I was nine years old, we moved across the country to Bostonand I missed my mentor acutely. Information Please belonged in that old wooden box back home, and I somehow never thought of trying the tall, skinny new phone that sat on a small table in the hall.
Yet as I grew into my teens, the memories of those childhood conversations never really left me; often in moments of doubt and perplexity I would recall the serene sense of security I had when I knew that I could call Information Please and get the right answer. I appreciate now how very patient, understanding and kind she was to have wasted her time on a little boy.
A few years later, on my way west to college, my plane put down in Seattle. I had about half an hour between plane connections, and I spent 15 minutes or so on the phone with my sister who lived there now, happily mellowed by marriage and motherhood. Then, really without thinking what I was doing, I dialed my hometown operator and said, "Information Please."
Miraculously, I heard again the small, clear voice I knew so well: "Information."
I hadn't planned this, but I heard myself saying, "Could you tell me, please, how to spell the word `fix'?"
There was a long pause. Then came the softly spoken answer. "I guess," said Information Please, "that your finger must have healed by now."
I laughed. "So it's really still you. I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during all that time...."
"I wonder," she replied, "if you know how much you meant to me? I never had any children, and I used to look forward to your calls. Silly, wasn't it?"
It didn't seem silly, but I didn't say so. Instead I told her how often I had thought of her over the years, and I asked if I could call her again when I came back to visit my sister after the first semester was over.
"Please do. Just ask for Sally."
"Good-bye, Sally." It sounded strange for Information Please to have a name. "If I run into any chipmunks, I'll tell them to eat fruit and nuts."
"Do that," she said. "And I expect one of these days you'll be off for the Orinoco. Well, good-bye."
Just three months later I was back again at the Seattle airport. A different voice answered, "Information," and I asked for Sally.
"Are you a friend?"
"Yes," I said. "An old friend."
"Then I'm sorry to have to tell you. Sally had only been working part-time in the last few years because she was ill. She died five weeks ago." But before I could hang up, she said, "Wait a minute. Did you say your name was Villiard?"
"Well, Sally left a message for you. She wrote it down."
"What was it?" I asked, almost knowing in advance what it would be.
"Here it is, I'll read it`Tell him I still say there are other worlds to sing in. He'll know what I mean.'"
I thanked her and hung up. I did know what Sally meant.
* * *
Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself. <
George Bernard Shaw
A story is told about Beethoven, a man not known for social grace. Because of his deafness, he found conversation difficult and humiliating. When he heard of the death of a friend's son, Beethoven hurried to the house, overcome with grief. He had no words of comfort to offer. But he saw a piano in the room. For the next half hour he played the piano, pouring out his emotions in the most eloquent way he could. When he finished playing, he left. The friend later remarked that no one else's visit had meant so much.
* * *
I'm not so concerned you have fallen
but that you rise.
At the Winter Feeder
His feather flame doused dull by ice and cold, the cardinal hunched into the rough, green feeder but ate no seed.
Through binoculars I saw festered and useless his beak, broken at the root.
Then two: one blazing, one gray, rode the swirling weather into my vision and lighted at his side.
Unhurried, as if possessing the patience of God, they cracked sunflowers and fed him beak to wounded beak choice meats.
Each morning and afternoon the winter long, that odd triumvirate, that trinity of need, returned and ate their sacrament of broken seed.
The boy sat huddled so close to the woman in gray that everybody felt sure he belonged to her; so when he unconsciously dug his muddy shoes into the broadcloth skirt of his left-hand neighbor she leaned over and said: "Pardon me, madam, will you kindly make your little boy square himself around? He is soiling my skirt with his muddy shoes."
The woman in gray blushed a little and nudged the boy away.
"My boy?" she said. "My goodness, he isn't mine."
The boy squirmed uneasily. He was such a little fellow that he could not touch his feet to the floor, so he stuck them out straight in front of him like pegs to hang things on, and looked at them deprecatingly.
"I am sorry I got your dress dirty," he said to the woman on his left. "I hope it will brush off."
"Oh, it doesn't matter," she said. Then, as his eyes were still fastened on hers, she added: "Are you going uptown alone?"
"Yes, ma'am," he said. "I always go alone. There isn't anybody to go with me. Father is dead and mother is dead. I live with Aunt Clara in Brooklyn, but she says Aunt Anna ought to help do something for me, so once or twice a week, when she gets tired and wants to go some place to get rested up, she sends me over to stay with Aunt Anna. I am going up there now. Sometimes I don't find Aunt Anna home, but I hope she will be at home today, because it looks as if it is going to rain, and I don't like to hang around in the street in the rain."
The woman felt something uncomfortable in her throat, and she said: "You are a very little boy to be knocked about this way," rather unsteadily.
"Oh, I don't mind," he said. "I never get lost. But I get lonesome sometimes on the long trips, and when I see anybody that I think I would like to belong to I scrooge up close to her so I can make believe that I really do belong to her. This morning I was playing that I belonged to that lady on the other side of me, and I forgot all about my feet. That is why I got your dress dirty."
The woman put her arm around the tiny chap and "scrooged" him up so close that she almost hurt him, and every other woman who had heard his artless confidence looked as if she would not only let him wipe his shoes on her best gown, but would rather he did it than not.
* * *
MIND AND HEART
"And what is as important as knowledge?" asked the mind "Caring, and seeing with the heart," answered the soul.
"Make Me Like Joe!"
Joe was a drunk who was miraculously converted at a Bowery mission. Prior to his conversion, he had gained the reputation of being a dirty wino for whom there was no hope, only a miserable existence in the ghetto. But following his conversion to a new life with God, everything changed. Joe became the most caring person that anyone associated with the mission had ever known. Joe spent his days and nights hanging out at the mission, doing whatever needed to be done. There was never anything that he was asked to do that he considered beneath him. Whether it was cleaning up the vomit left by some violently sick alcoholic or scrubbing toilets after careless men left the men's room filthy, Joe did what was asked with a smile on his face and a seeming gratitude for the chance to help. He could be counted on to feed feeble men who wandered off the street and into the mission, and to undress and tuck into bed men who were too out of it to take care of themselves.
One evening, when the director of the mission was delivering his evening evangelistic message to the usual crowd of still and sullen men with drooped heads, there was one man who looked up, came down the aisle to the altar, and knelt to pray, crying out for God to help him to change. The repentant drunk kept shouting, "Oh God! Make me like Joe! Make me like Joe! Make me like Joe! Make me like Joe!"
The director of the mission leaned over and said to the man, "Son, I think it would be better if you prayed, `Make me like Jesus.'"
The man looked up at the director with a quizzical expression on his face and asked, "Is he like Joe?"
Lady, Are You Rich?
They huddled inside the storm doortwo children in ragged outgrown coats.
"Any old papers, lady?"
I was busy. I wanted to say nountil I looked down at their feet. Thin little sandals, sopped with sleet. "Come in and I'll make you a cup of hot cocoa." There was no conversation. Their soggy sandals left marks upon the hearthstone.
I served them cocoa and toast with jam to fortify against the chill outside. Then I went back to the kitchen and started again on my household budget....
The silence in the front room struck through to me. I looked in.
The girl held the empty cup in her hands, looking at it. The boy asked in a flat voice, "Lady ... are you rich?"
"Am I rich? Mercy, no!" I looked at my shabby slip covers.
The girl put her cup back in its saucercarefully. "Your cups match your saucers." Her voice was old, with a hunger that was not of the stomach.
They left then, holding their bundles of papers against the wind. They hadn't said thank you. They didn't need to. They had done more than that. Plain blue pottery cups and saucers. But they matched. I tested the potatoes and stirred the gravy. Potatoes and brown gravy, a roof over our heads, my man with a good steady jobthese things matched, too.
I moved the chairs back from the fire and tidied the living room. The muddy prints of small sandals were still wet upon my hearth. I let them be. I want them there in case I ever forget again how very rich I am.
To My Neighbor
One night a man came to our house and told me, "There is a family with eight children. They have not eaten for days." I took some food with me and went.
When I finally came to that family, I saw the faces of those little children disfigured by hunger. There was no sorrow or sadness in their faces, just the deep pain of hunger.
I gave the rice to the mother. She divided the rice in two, and went out, carrying half the rice. When she came back, I asked her, "Where did you go?" She gave me this simple answer, "To my neighborsthey are hungry also!"
... I was not surprised that she gave, because poor people are really very generous. But I was surprised that she knew they were hungry. As a rule, when we are suffering, we are so focused on ourselves we have no time for others.
* * *
Real friends are those who,
when you've made a fool of yourself,
don't feel that you've done a permanent job.
Erwin T. Randall