I Could Not Read On

Glenn, on December 23, silently put a small book before me, and left. I understood perfectly his silent instruction that I needed to read it. I checked it out to me, and put it in my front seat, where it would be easy to grab at home. Before going home, I had to move it for groceries. I searched for it, Elie Wiesel’s Open Heart, but did not find it. I found it today, Jan. 5. Delighted, I took it to my house, and started reading. I read page 1, and turned to page 2, where I found this: “ ‘...[D]on’t argue with me! You must [go to] the hospital. ...[A]s quickly as you can! And go to the emergency entrance!’ ”

With those words a memory overwhelmed me. My medical practitioner, about two years ago, told me almost the same thing as his had told him. Mine added that I should stop at the office, to get the information that Mercy Hospital’s ER needed. I quickly went to the office, but there was an important change. I would not be allowed to drive myself. I would wait right there, certainly not go out to my car for any reason, until a driver, who had been called while two counties away, arrived. He was on his way. That change, and the reason for it, hammered into me the urgency I faced. When my driver arrived, I was hustled into his pickup. My driver, reluctantly, made a slight detour, at my request. I dropped my car key off at the Madisonian office, and asked a friend there to drive my car home, so it wouldn’t be left out on the street downtown. At Mercy, my driver, Earle, took me into the ER area, before parking. He was with me until I was put under, as was his wife, Karen, my niece, after she also arrived. And they were there part of each day after the emergency operation. Two of my touching, but not pleasant, memories are of them accompanying my gurney as I was wheeled down the long inner halls of Mercy to the operating room, and their worry for me. 

I shall read, and finish, Wiesel’s book, someday. Not today. A memory overpowered that intention. 

For a Stranger in Our Midst

Readers, today I share with you an unexpected story, one that I was privileged to see unfold Friday, Jan. 3, at Community Coffee, in the library meeting room. Our hour was more than half over when one of us noticed a stranger in the lobby, waiting for the library to open. A person went out to invite stranger in. Yes, she would appreciate coffee, while she waited. Stranger was seated at the only chair available at the crowded table, the one vacated only a moment before. That person got another chair, and drew it up near a corner of the table. Various persons brought coffee, the New Year’s cake we were enjoying, a paper plate, a plastic spoon, and some snacks. Others made stranger feel welcome, by talking with her, and asking her about herself. When our allotted hour was almost ended, Stranger made one tiny request. If any of us had some work to do, anything at all, could she please do it, for whatever money might be paid, in order to buy some groceries for her short time here. We had already learned that a special circumstance had drawn her back to Winterset, with no money, and no car, but hadn’t realized that the tiny piece of cake she had taken was surely her only breakfast that day. Not a one of us had any work to be done. We did not, though, wring our hands and say, sorry, we can’t help. As some started to offer her money, we heard a voice say “I have a better idea,” as the speaker rose. He put some of our coffee fund money into a cup, and quickly gave it to her. She was also given all the rest of the cake, and other things to eat that we had. 

We also suggested some avenues for emergency financial help. That included Matura, way north on Highway 169. Stranger was going to walk, alone, to where she was staying, leave the food there, walk the far distance to Matura, and so on. We felt otherwise, given the cold day and her inadequate clothing for such a long walk. Somehow, someway, we would provide a ride. Sharon and Lowell graciously agreed to do that. 

Stranger left us with deep gratitude for all that we had done, and were doing. At Matura, Sharon went in with Stranger, as a friendly, caring presence. I will not mention anything else that happened there. It is not my story to reveal. 

As some of us talked in the library that morning, we talked of how inadequately we felt about what we had just faced, and that we needed more information if and when another situation arose. Later that morning, just before noon, I went to Matura, seeking exactly that more information, and found it. We had, indeed, steered Stranger right, to Matura. For a need after office hours, or on a weekend or holiday, our own police department can be contacted. They know who to contact then. I also came back with a good handful of 2018 booklets listing Madison County resources for several kinds of help. I immediately took one to Jean, the library director. She has already seen to it that it will be at the library’s main desk, for librarians to refer to, if it is ever needed. 

As good as the three weeks of Christmas-time 1871 fiction stories were that readers of Very Long Ago read recently, I know of no better story to share with you today. It is a real life story, in which people of our community did well in welcoming, and helping, as best as we then knew, a Stranger in our midst. 


I will add, today, a thought about “worms”. Life has a way of handing us worms. Not the nice, welcome earthwormy type we use for fishing. They are the nasties which sometimes befall us, those which are messy meanies, which have no easy solution, and which stir up trouble for us and with others. Perhaps it is only in my imagination, but they seem prone to trouble us most often as we try to do good for our church, community or world, and especially when we are new for a task and least able to deal with worms. 

Readers, please DO NOT, DO NOT let the possibility of encountering worms in such work discourage you from doing good in your life. Not doing so, for the most part, seems to me to change mainly the particular worms you face, not your facing worms, AND it deprives you, and others, of the good you can do. 

Why this thought, today? I have just encountered another nasty worm. Like most of my own material, “Worms” comes to me from experience. I’m presently encountering, and dealing as best I can, with far more than a fair share of worms. My planned, and very unusual, Fifth Wednesday Special this month, for example, will be because of one of the worms encountered last month.