On the first Saturday of each December, people in need are invited to Freebay in our church gymnasium, an all day free spree of “shopping” for new toys, household necessities, and clothes.
My volunteer position for the day is the clothing area. As I listen to people’s stories while hunting for the right sizes, I see their brokenness. A woman supports her back with one hand, struggling to emotionally and physically stand under the ever present pain. Another shopper’s extra weight spills over the arms and seat of her wheelchair. I help her get closer to the tables of 2xl clothing. She doesn’t look at me and doesn’t appear to want my help. Frail men lean on walkers and follow their women folk, a few steps behind. Prematurely pinched, lined and resigned faces look for something they can’t seem to find. Honey, do you think this will fit? Maybe I’ll try it just in case. Ma’am, do you think I can get a few of these?
Then there’s the younger crowd. Single Mamas juggle babies on hips, hoping for something, anything, to eliminate the anxiety of never having enough to get through a week. One pair of jeans just isn’t enough. Two would really be nice. But my daughter could really use a coat. Do you have any left??
I know some of our “shoppers” personally from our homeless ministry. One, a Mom of three, shares she finally found a place to rent. But the ceiling is peeling and much of it is falling to the floor. Should I or shouldn’t I?
Another, Mama to two boys from two Dads, just got in her own place. She’s doing well, thank you, and would love a few new things. We discuss her style and I find her some sweaters. My niece owns one pair of shoes. Any size sevens around?
I see and make friends with the widowed Grandmas in their sixties, finding clothes for the next single parent generation who lives at home. Oh, and I need some pants for my grandchildren. They live with us part time and the other grandma the other days. She doesn’t know nothin’ about dressing kids.
I see the man in the orange jumpsuit, silver hair down his back, tool belt at waist. He rambles to anyone who will listen. No wonder no one wants this corduroy coat. The zipper is installed wrong! Do you think this jacket looks good on me?
I see a group of men and women who can’t say thank you enough as they fill up boxes of clothes for family and friends. I’m giving this to my neighbor’s kids. And if this doesn’t fit me, my Mom might like it.
And I wonder.
What do they see when they look at me?
Do they see my brokenness? Or is it all covered up with smooth skin hydrated by conscientious water consumption, gray hair that is treated with a natural dye, clothes that fit, and a smile that says life is good and I can’t wait to make your life better?
What do they see when they look at me? I wonder.
Do they see my brokenness? Or is it all covered up with my looks of concern for their difficulties, my masters degree competency to empathize, my zeal to help, and my reluctance to reciprocate with any part of my own story?
I wonder. Because brokenness is not magically erased by a look good life. I wonder if they know we’re all broken to some extent. Do they know what they see outwardly is not an indication of what’s going on inwardly?
I wonder. Do they know?
That no matter what, we all are in need of the same thing.
And I wonder if my cover up is so good that it’s even fooling me.