This is Maria’s story. Why she entrusted it to a hapless boy columnist like myself is beyond me. Either way, our story begins in a humble cafeteria, filled with homeless people.
They are all here for the free annual holiday meal. All who enter are given hand sanitizer and hot cocoa.
Maria volunteers here. She has been helping serve hot meals all week, and she volunteers here year round. This volunteering tradition started many years ago. It’s a long story.
When she was a kid her late father was an alcoholic. But when Maria hit age 13, he got sober. Her father started attending AA meetings and won his life back. The main thing her father learned from these support group meetings was that (a) each meeting had donuts, which increased your pant size considerably, and (b) helping others is the only thing worth doing with your life.
Oh, how she misses him.
The mess hall is overrun with people who are dressed in ragged clothing. Some suffer from mental illness, some are addicted, others have breath that is 190 proof.
Maria stands behind the sneeze guard, dressed in facemask and hairnet. She serves them all steaming helpings. She is cheery, fun, and she flirts with the old guys because they get such a kick out of this.
One elderly man smiles at her. “Maria, I wish I were twenty years younger, I’d marry you.”
She throws out a hip and says, “And just what would YOU know about marriage, Mister Dan?”
“Hey, I know a lot. I’ve had three very successful marriages.”
She cackles. She gives him an extra helping of green beans and reminds him to behave.
Another old guy shuffles toward her. He wears a leather hat and a large backpack. His pants have gaping holes, he reeks of ammonia and body odor. She dishes his plate. The man’s eyes become pink and wet when he sees all the free food. He is unable to speak, he can only mumble.
“Happy Thanksgiving, Roger,” says Maria.
Next an old woman presents her plate. She is covered in scabs, she never stops fidgeting, and she wears a faded T-shirt. The woman won’t let the staff wash this filthy shirt because it was a gift from her daughter. Her daughter currently wants nothing to do with her, so this is all she has left.
The lady says, “Where’s your dad this year, Maria? He’s usually back there serving the food.”
Maria’s father has been dead since August, but the poor old woman is caught in a mental time loop and doesn’t remember.
“He’s resting,” says Maria.
“Good man, your dad. Helped me quit drinking. Five or six times.”
Now it’s Maria’s eyes that pinken.
This will be her first Thanksgiving without him. And it has been the worst year ever. She’s been a wreck.
But these people have it so much worse than she does. That’s what her father would have reminded her. He would have told Maria that many of these people will sleep outside tonight.
Some will shelter in camps off the interstate, with American flags flapping from their tentpoles. Some will die from exposure this year. Or from alcohol. Or drugs. Or whatever.
This holiday meal could be their final one. This could be the last time a friendly face looks at them—really looks at them—and smiles.
After a few hours of work, Maria takes a break. She unties her apron and leaves the serving line. She joins a young man seated on the sofa in the corner. He is alone, watching the complimentary TV, holding his plate. The kid is missing all his front teeth. This is Brad.
Brad used to be in college before his mental illness got bad. Then his family cut him off because of a drinking problem that was ruining his life. A few years ago, Brad was sleeping behind a gas station one night when a few young men decided to take turns beating him. This is how Brad lost his teeth.
“Hi, Brad,” Maria says.
Brad tries to suppress a grin, but fails. “We—We forgot to say grace,” he says, positioning the paper plate on his lap.
Brad has been sober for two years. Maria’s father helped him.
“No, we didn’t forget to say grace. We said it earlier, before you got here. Where were you? You’re never late for food.”
“I was at the Dollar Store.”
“The Dollar Store? Doing what?”
“Well…” Brad digs into his pocket. He removes a small gift-wrapped box with a frilly white ribbon and a notecard attached. The card has her name on it, in sloppy penmanship. She sees this gift and feels a prickling behind her eyes and nose.
“Oh, Brad, you didn’t.”
Maria opens the present. Inside is a tiny ornament. A red plastic heart. And there is a small Band-Aid stuck to this heart. An actual Band-Aid, like the kind you get from drugstores.
The young man points to the ornament. “See? I put the Band-Aid on it because that’s your heart, Miss Maria, and I just wanted you to know that I’m here for you if you need me.”
She covers her mouth.
Although this kid has so little, and has been through so much, he gives so deeply. What would her father have said in a moment like this? He was always so good at this kind of thing. He always knew exactly what to say.
Then it hits her. She takes Brad’s spindly hand in her own. She squeezes it and tells Brad to bow his head while she says grace.
“Dear God,” Maria begins. “No matter what this horrible year holds for us, please grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and give us the wisdom to know the difference.”
“Amen,” says Brad.
“Amen,” says Maria.
Ditto, says the boy columnist.
I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving.
Lisa K Riley - November 26, 2021 7:09 am
AMEN. And there’s so much of this year I cannot change. A lot I do not want to. Some I definitely do, but God is in control and invited my husband to a permanent dance with Jesus. I am jealous. My invitation apparently got lost in the mail. So I will have to carry on like Maria.
God Bless you, Sean.
Glenda E Hulbert - November 26, 2021 8:25 am
THIS ONE WAS ESPECIALLY BEAUTIFUL, THANK YOU SEAN!
Janet - November 26, 2021 11:55 am
Talk about crying in my coffee! God bless the homeless and all those who are there for them. Thank you, Sean for reminding us of goodness in this world.
Paul McCutchen - November 26, 2021 12:37 pm
yea this one made my eyes pink,,,Thanks Sean
Leigh Amiot - November 26, 2021 12:47 pm
This sentence really jumped out at me: “This could be the last time a friendly face looks at them—really looks at them—and smiles.” Another important reminder about how to treat every person we encounter…thanks, Sean.
Connie Cagle - November 26, 2021 1:07 pm
Sean, thank you!! I hope to meet you one day! Im so glad God shared you with us.
Suellen - November 26, 2021 1:12 pm
So many people who have the least are the most giving.
Joan Moore - November 26, 2021 1:15 pm
God bless you for reminding us to bear one another’s burdens.
Jan - November 26, 2021 1:37 pm
Amen. Precious story of wonder and grace. Thank you, Sean.
steveleachman - November 26, 2021 2:18 pm
Dang, you made me cry. We all tend to forget how good many of us have it in America. We complain or worry about things we can’t control, such as what the President or Congress does or doesn’t do about a particular problem. We need to love and care for the ones in our family and if we can volunteer to help others. If we do this the problems will get solved. Remember what Jesus said “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of it’s own.” Matthew 6:34 (NIV).
Maggie Priestaf - November 26, 2021 2:24 pm
I had to, at least, say thank you…
Al Cato - November 26, 2021 2:31 pm
A friend serves in a homeless camp and provides food, clothes, tents, blankets, hygiene products, etc. But most of all he shares the Gospel. He is there most days to do what he can. He knows them all. They know him. He creates a prayer list by talking with each person individually, sends the completed list to lots of his friends and they forward the list to many more. As I read the prayer list and their prayer requests, many of the homeless are asking for prayers for their brothers and sisters in the camp. Those who mostly have nothing are asking us to pray for the healing of their brothers and sisters in the camp. We can all judge them. I suggest we remember that But For the Grace of God Go I.
Karen - November 26, 2021 2:33 pm
Thank you. My heart hurts for those suffering. We are the hands and feet of Christ. Serving those in need is a privilege.
Vince - November 26, 2021 2:36 pm
I think I am allergic to your writing. More often than not my eyes get all watery when reading your touching stories. Thank you for sharing your great gift for writing!
Cathy M - November 26, 2021 2:43 pm
Everyone has a story and your message today proves just that. It also inspires me to get back out there and find a place where I can serve others. The pandemic put a glitch in that but it’s time to jump back in bc there are so many ways to help the less fortunate. God bless Maria and God bless you for keeping your followers in touch with people from all walks of life. We are all God’s children . Some just more fortunate than others. I count my blessings each and everyday. You are one of my blessings.
Tammy S. - November 26, 2021 3:34 pm
This is beautiful! And powerful!! Thanks, Sean. Hope you and Jamie had a good Thanksgiving. I thought of you both yesterday and know Mother Mary was so missed.
Ruth Mitchell - November 26, 2021 3:38 pm
Oh, my goodness! What beauty I discover in your words. Your characters are so easy to love and remind me that I see similar people many times but don’t recognize them as you do. Thank you for helping to awaken my senses so I’m a little sensitive and kind to all God’s people. You bless me so much with your writing.
JACKIE LEON DARNELL - November 26, 2021 4:57 pm
SWEET my friend, yep good stuff. 😉
Norma Den🇿🇦 - November 26, 2021 5:19 pm
Every person on this earth was created by God and is loved by God. Judge not, lest ye be judged. A persons race & religion or non religion is between them and God entirely. Love Thy neighbour as you love yourself. Beautiful message today thank you so much. ✝️🙏🕯
Linda Moon - November 26, 2021 7:49 pm
I know why Maria’s story was given to you, Columnist. We all have one…a story, that is. Oh how I miss one from my story: My Daddy. You see, he needed that prayer often. Yesterday much of our Thanksgiving prayer and conversations were for and about Daddies…some who are gone and some who are still here. Writer, I just entrusted you with a small story of my family. And, thank you…Thanksgiving was very, very happy!
Bob E - November 26, 2021 8:19 pm
Dang we’re well off…amen.
Thank you dear Lord.
MAM - November 26, 2021 10:36 pm
Sean, you just sent us another good reminder about what we should all be doing—serving others! Thank you, Sean. I hope you and Jamie had a good Thanksgiving with great memories of Thanksgivings past.
Stacey Wallace - November 27, 2021 2:45 am
Thanks, Sean. Love you. You remind us how blessed we are.
Karen Snyder - November 27, 2021 5:07 am
Cried again. It’s getting to be a real habit. Thanks for your precious reminders of how fortunate we are. ❤️
Janet Vansandt - November 27, 2021 6:06 pm
Wow. What a story. I make me cry