"One Measly Act Of Charity"

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    A Charity-challenged group somehow manages to contribute one really spectacular act of charity.

    I was middle-aged when I decided to become Catholic. My mother was raised in a fundamentalist church -- one of those churches where Sunday services last all day and there’s a lot of (literal) Bible thumping involved. (I’ll never forget the Sunday my uncle Alvin gave the sermon, whacking his Bible against the podium to emphasize his proclamations. “You are all SINNERS.” Whack goes the Bible against the podium. “You are all going to HELL!” Whack! “You are all going STRAIGHT TO HELL!” Whack. And so forth.) My parents worked most weekends, so my sister Rose and I spent most weekends with my grandparents. At their church. That was enough to turn me off organized religion . . . until I met my DH and started going to Catholic services with him. When we decided to get married, he wanted to be married in the Catholic church. And so I found myself, in my mid forties, attending Catholic classes at our neighborhood St. Something Church.

    One of the nicer things about joining the Catholic church as an adult is that they assume you ARE an adult and the nuns don’t whack you with their rulers when you get out of line. I’ve heard enough nun and ruler stories to make me think getting whacked (or nearly whacked) with the Bible was strictly child’s play. One of the other things about joining the Catholic church is that they expected us to do an act of charity as a group during the course of our Catholic Classes. I wasn’t looking forward to it, having been of the opinion that “I gave at the office,” but I figured I could do it if everyone else did. I had no idea what an ordeal it was going to turn out to be.

    My RCIA class was an eclectic bunch. There was “Harley Harry” (or was that “Hairy”?) who had a beard to his naval and acres of ink on his six foot five inch, 350 pound carcass. There was “Elegant Ella” whose family founded the local department store AND newspaper AND several other businesses. When asked why she wanted to join the Catholic church, she said it was because that’s the only way she could be buried in the Catholic cemetery with her husband. I think she was afraid that was imminent; she must have been twice my age. There was “Transplant Tom” -- whose transplant surgeon vetoed many of the acts of charity our group came up with. And there was me.

    The first suggestion our group leader, Linda, came up with was helping to prepare and serve dinner at a homeless shelter. I had expected Ella to come up with objections to this one . . . the homeless are, after all, “not our kind.” But she seemed to be the veteran of many such excursions and came up with some concrete and very practical suggestions.

    “Wear old clothes,” she said. And she set the example by wearing an ensemble that must have been at least a couple of years old accessorized by a mere three strands of pearls.

    “You don’t want to leave your car in that neighborhood,” she advised. And she volunteered her car and driver to transport all of us to the homeless shelter. I had no idea there was such a thing as a privately owned limo.

    The Homeless shelter idea might have been a success and thus fulfilled the charitable act requirement once and for all -- if Hairy hadn’t run into a fellow he knew from his days as a biker. His friend was suffering from a variety of alcohol-induced illnesses, most of which were close to end stage. The one he just HAD to show me -- because I’m a nurse, you see -- was his sore foot. He pulled off his motorcycle boat and exhibited a macerated specimen that an odd combination of black, purple, red and the color of purulent drainage. The smell was toxic, but the part that seemed to cap it off was the wriggling maggots that infested the wound. I’m an ICU nurse, not an ER nurse. I had never seen such a thing. Neither had Transplant Tom, from the sound of the gagging.

    “My transplant surgeon would KILL me if he knew I was here,” he said. This place is an infection risk! And I’m immunocompromised.” (Tom knew -- and used -- all the big words.) Gagging, he immediately vacated himself from the premises.

    We had all arrived together; we were all leaving together. The dinner didn’t get prepared or served -- at least not by us. I’m sure that a crop of hungry homeless people weren’t going to let those bags of groceries go unused.

    A little after Thanksgiving, Tom announced that it had been his dream to run a marathon before he became ill. He was thankful for his kidney transplant, and thought he might be healthy enough to try it this year. There was a marathon scheduled for March, but his doctor wouldn’t let him participate unless he had a doctor or nurse with him. I’m guessing the doctor thought that would be the end of it. It might have been, but I’m an easy mark. I agreed to accompany Tom to his first training session. I thought I was just going to hang out and watch him work out. It turned out that he wanted me to actually RUN with him. Embarrassed to reveal that I couldn’t keep up with a transplant patient 20 years my senior, I ran with him. It became a weekly endeavor -- he evidently trained on his own Monday through Saturday, but on Sundays after church, we trained together. It wasn’t long until I was training on my own, gradually increasing my milage and before long going farther and faster than my aging dogs could keep up.

    At Christmas time, someone -- I’m not sure who -- came up with the idea for adopting a family for Christmas. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the idea -- we’d provide dinner and presents for a needy family. Tom suggested the family -- there was a single father who hung out near the freeway exit downtown with a big cardboard sign proclaiming that he was homeless, hungry, a veteran and a single father and asking for donations. Tom chatted him up and found out the number, gender, ages and sizes of his four children and we gathered presents for all of them. The day we went to deliver the gifts and groceries, we arrived at the freeway exit at “shift change” and witnessed the “homeless single father” getting out of a brand new SUV, covering up his designer blue jeans and Eddie Bauer sweater with a filthy, torn coverall and pulling his cardboard sign out of the cargo area in back. The “poor, homeless single mother down on her luck and looking for work” who had been panhandling walked to the parked SUV, stripped off her filthy coveralls and parka revealing designer jeans and an Eddie Bauer turtleneck and calling out “goodbyes” and “I love your” to the “single father,” drove off.

    The gifts and groceries went back under the Christmas tree in the narthex of our church and were distributed to needy children in our Sunday school classes. Once again, we’d missed out on the opportunity to contribute a charitable act. Accompanied by heavy sighs, Linda expressed her belief that we as a group would never manage an act of charity.

    The Domestic Violence shelter was next. Apparently they were in need of some handyman work. Tom was a former contractor and Hairy a construction worker. Ella was a great supervisor and I can follow directions. So off we went to the Domestic Violence shelter to offer our help. That lasted for maybe three minutes . . . until one of the shelter’s domestic violence survivors noticed Hairy and mistook him for her ex. One thing led to another, and it was decided that perhaps a gigantic biker wearing leathers and tattoos was not the best person to be wielding a hammer in a domestic violence shelter.

    “I swear,” Linda sighed, rolling her eyes. “I can’t even get ONE measly act of charity from this group! Not even one!”

    What could any of us say? We’d been spectacularly unsuccessful in the act of charity department.

    All through the winter, Tom and I trained for the marathon. Our team grew as other transplant recipients wanted to run with us to show their gratitude for their second chances. As “Team Transplant” grew, we were all soliciting donations from everyone we knew. Church members pledged so many pennies for each mile Tom and I completed, and many of them got interested in participating in the marathon as well. Hairy decided to walk with us, and as walking rather than running became a choice, our team drew more members. I signed up co-workers -- with so many transplant recipients participating, we needed more nurses -- and many of my colleagues pledged money rather than miles. Ella figured she was too old to participate, but she was a great organizer. And her house was right along the route. She and some of her friends set up a refreshment station in front of her house, and it turned into a cheering station for “Team Transplant” as well. Tom’s doctor financed T shirts so our team would stand out among the other runners and walkers. From an activity that I grudgingly agreed to, it turned into the social activity of the season.

    But while all of this was going on, Easter was rapidly approaching and with it, the end of the Catholic classes and the beginning of our lives as Catholics. We had to complete our one measly act of charity before Easter or we wouldn’t “graduate.”

    Linda was scrambling to find us an act of charity to perform that she thought we’d be able to perform without botching up, getting evicted or otherwise causing disaster. The rest of us were willing to go along, since it was necessary, but skeptical. Very skeptical. “Don’t worry about it,” Ella announced one Wednesday evening during our meeting. “I’ve got an idea.”

    We all had plenty to worry about with the approaching marathon and with planning our Easter festivities. Most of us had elaborate dinners planned with family and friends coming from out of town to see us confirmed in the church. The one measly act of charity idea faded into the background, and although I woke up in the middle of the day once or twice wondering how we were going to accomplish it, the thought never stuck.

    The morning of the marathon dawned grey and cool -- perfect weather for walking or running, I thought. As Team Transplant gathered in the pre-dawn darkness, wearing our matching T shirts, we were all excited about our marathon. It turned out to be, rather than the ordeal I’d expected, FUN. The pictures of me crossing the finish line, arm in arm with Tom and Hairy showed the three of us laughing despite our jellied muscles and the blisters I had on top of my blisters. Ella’s refreshment station was a huge success, and there were pictures of each of us getting encouraging hugs from her as we passed by, sweat and all. Linda and some of the other members of the church had set up a second cheering section for our group a few miles further on, and it was thrilling to see the “Go Team Transplant!” and “Way To Go St. Something’s!” signs being waved by yelling, cheering supporters from a half mile away.

    Wednesday night when the Catholic Class met, Linda failed to bring up the act of charity. Since it was almost Easter, I should have suspected something, but as we were all excitedly sharing stories of our participation in the marathon, I didn’t.

    That Sunday in church, the pastor called our Catholic Class to the front of the church to introduce us to the congregation. “This group has raised the most money for charity than any of our classes has ever raised,” he announced. And as Tom, Hairy and I looked at each other with bewildered expressions, Ella smiled and Linda produced one of those enormous checks that you see on the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes ads. It seems that while Tom and I weren’t paying attention, Team Transplant snowballed. Along with each new participant came new pledges, and Ella had done some fundraising of her own. Without meaning to, thinking about it or even realizing it, Tom and I had created a team that raised thousands (and thousands) of dollars for transplant research.

    One Measly Act of Charity. That's all that was required of us. Yet somehow it was so much more.
    Last edit by Joe V on Oct 28, '11
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    About Ruby Vee, BSN, RN

    Joined: Jun '02; Posts: 13,945; Likes: 58,321

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  3. by   NightOwl0624
    Sometimes the most amazing acts of charity happen when we're not even aware.

    Thanks so much for sharing your story, I thoroughly enjoyed it!
  4. by   dudette10
    This article was alternately sad, funny, and ultimately inspiring.

    I could easily see this developed into a screenplay. The character development in just a few words was superb.

    Ruby, I think you enjoy writing. It shows. Try your hand at pounding out a screenplay!
  5. by   kids
    What a wonderful story Ruby, thank you.
  6. by   VivaLasViejas
    Once again, Ruby, you have done it---made me think, made me cry, made me smile. The only thing you never make me do when I read your articles is regret taking the time to read them.

    This story brought back memories of my own Catholic journey as a young adult in the RCIA so many years ago. I'm glad we never had to perform the way your group did in order to "graduate" on time, but in a way, I think it would've been a great experience. Wonderful story, Ruby....congratulations!!
  7. by   jesskidding
    I really enjoyed reading this, Ruby. You are a great writer!
  8. by   merlee
    Thank you, thank you for sharing this.
  9. by   nerdtonurse?
    I taught RCIA for years, and loved to watch people on their journey, the boyfriend who stayed after the girlfriend changed her mind, and went on to become a deacon; the wife who came, and then her adult children started coming, and finally, the whole family was received at Easter Vigil; the year our parish lost our priest to a combination of a heart attack and unknown substance abuse, and I was the RCIA "team" that year -- we had 11 people received into a parish of 300, and I don't know who cried harder at Easter Vigil, me or the candidates as the visiting priest who kept saying, "I can't believe you did this, you all came thru" -- I had told them, "this isn't about me, this isn't about the fact we don't have a priest, it's about love. Your love, and His Love. And that's all that matters."

    The only bad thing about internet "friends" is I'd love to sit down and have a big meal with you guys, one where we could talk smack and laugh and tease our non-nursing hubby, wife or family that they were out numbered, laugh about the funny things we'd seen, cry about the sad things, and be what we are:

    a family of nurses.
  10. by   rn/writer
    From one writer to another--well done! Your "measly" act of charity and the telling of it are true blessings. Thank you.
  11. by   elthia
    Mysterious ways indeed...I think you did what was intended all along.
  12. by   txredheadnurse
    You performed one more act of charity by sharing your story with us. Thank you Ruby.
  13. by   Rodoon
    What a wonderful story! I laughed my *** off at you guys trying all sorts of good deeds, but something happened to derail you. I could picture Linda scrambling to get you guys out of her life!

    Thanks for sharing, it really made me feel good.
    Last edit by Silverdragon102 on Oct 30, '11 : Reason: changed to all *
  14. by   CrazierThanYou
    That was a great story! Thanks for sharing