I woke up this morning feeling worthless. That's the price you pay at times when you're a recluse such as I am and there's no one around to offer encouragement. One becomes acclimated to loneliness in the same way one becomes acclimated to the cold of winter or the heat of summer, but today was different. I felt as though my foundation had disappeared from under my feet and I was looking up from inside a deep pit. As I lay there in bed, I contemplated quitting. I searched my soul, and I couldn't think of anything in my life that was worthwhile to other people, I felt like nothing I did was making me a better person.
I counted the cost of what my life would be like if I simply gave up and let hopelessness devour me. First off, of course, I'd start drinking again; then I'd neglect my home and my yard and my health, and soon I'd be just another old drunk with empty eyes. I almost said the words: "God, I can't do it anymore. I give up."
And even as I prepared myself to say those words, a thought came to me: "Why are you giving up on yourself, when God hasn't given up on you?" Hmm....
I went downstairs and made coffee, checked out things on the Internet, and slowly got ready to make the 50-mile drive to the 'big city' to run errands and go to Sunday night church. I tried to encourage myself by thinking I'd hear a really good sermon at church that would: Set My Feet On A Mountaintop!! But those chains of worthlessness weighed me down all the way into town.
After a haircut, and a visit to Sears to buy a couple of pairs of blue jeans, I went to the Walmart near my church. I picked up some cucumbers and bell peppers and balsamic vinegar, and stood in line at the Express Checkout. The cashier was a young black woman, maybe 25 years old, with tightly braided hair, a smooth complexion, and a strong build. But her eyes were sad. The family she was checking out was having a hard time getting their credit card to work, and the line was at a standstill. The cashier waited patiently, without even a hint of annoyance, maintaining her stoic look with those sad eyes. The next people in line also had credit card trouble and the cashier quietly smiled at them.
When my turn came, I tried to guess her accent. South Africa? Eritrea? Her nametag said, 'Kang', a name I'd never seen before. As she began scanning my groceries, she picked up the cucumbers and asked "Cucumbers?". I said yes, then she picked up the bell peppers, and started to look at the picture chart. I said, "Bell Peppers". By now I was overwhelmed with curiosity. I asked quietly, "So, where are you from?" She looked at me with just a little bit of apprehension, and said "South Sudan".
The Sudanese have endured centuries of civil wars and military coups, starvation, and slavery. In recent years, three million people have been displaced, six million people are at risk of starvation, barrels of gasoline with detonators attached are dropped from helicopters into villages of grass huts, and slave-trading is rampant. It's a terrible place to live, and the outside world has done little to intervene.
Kang has won the lottery: she has come from a living hell to beautiful, peaceful Iowa and has a real job, nice clothes, and the glorious freedom of America. With all the weight of those thoughts racing through my mind, I looked at her and said, "Congratulations!!"
I'm not exaggerating when I say that Kang was transformed before my very eyes. She appeared to be a little girl, her eyes brightened as though they were lit from within, she looked at me and said, "Thank you!!" As she handed me my grocery bags, she looked directly in my eyes, smiling with joy, and said "Thank you!!" a second time.
Needless to say, I drove home with tears in my eyes. This mountaintop feels pretty good.