While I've mostly adjusted well to sheltering in place, some parts have been tough. I miss socializing and crafting at MakeHaven. I miss visiting bookstores downtown. I miss sitting on other people's comfortable chairs, although I ordered some bean bags that may help.
One thing I'm surprised I miss a lot, being an introverted shut-in most of my life, are the people I know. Being away from them has made me think more about who they are and why I admire them. So I thought I'd write about one of those people here to better remember them until we meet again.
This person is Meghan, a manager at a local soup kitchen. I miss Meghan since she's in the business of helping others, and does so as one of the most "tough as nails" people I know.
A Soup Kitchen Service with Meghan #
As I first got to know Meghan, she seemed full of odd contradictions.
After a few nights of meeting an aggressive panhandler in the city, I asked Meghan how she handles people like that. She told me she doesn't carry cash altogether to avoid giving any out on the street. Yet she also lets soup kitchen guests charge their iPhones in the building's outlets. Some guests who arrive late eat next to these outlets to charge while they eat.
Meghan is also an almost magical cook. She can turn any kind of food, fresh or leftover, into a meal fit to serve dozens. These are the meals given out for free to a wide variety of people most nights. She knows many of them by name and will point out which ones are sweet.
When new volunteers are serving this food, these guests will try to take advantage of them for larger portions or second helpings. New volunteers are told to say they can't give people extra food since "that's Meghan's rule." Every guest, no matter how loud or pleading they acted, will nod at that and move on. They know she's not afraid to lay down the law to their faces.
She's a woman who can intuitively tell if a guest was banned, is high, or both. One man who was both was being served one night and turned his face away from Meghan whenever she looked. But she knew from the start who he was and what he was on. She's also let it slide since he wasn't causing any more trouble that night. But I saw her eyes harden slightly whenever she looked and he averted his face from her.
I can only imagine what she'd have done if he didn't behave himself, although I don't really need to. One night two men started yelling at each other and a fight broke out. One was literally swinging a stool around. Eventually Meghan stepped forward and yelled them down. The men were still mad but the fight instantly fizzled out. The stool swinger who apparently started it was banned.
Yes, grown men swinging stools have cowered before her presence. The non-stool swinger was also chatting with her early on at that night's service. He brought his two dogs in, and let her and the volunteers pet them behind the counters. After service ended she let them run around the empty space, sniffing out corners and playing fetch.
Like everyone there she laughed and found the dogs cute. Even when one had an "accident" on one of the mats.
The Importance of Firm Limits when Helping #
To me, Meghan is a woman who has seen firsthand, perhaps more than anyone I know, that doing good things can spiral into someone walking all over you. Others may think this means it's not worth doing anything good at all. I think Meghan instead sees the importance of being firm with your limits for helping, in life and in work. This lets her give as much as she can without sacrificing herself. To do those few good things you can and as well as you can, but refuse to let people take even more. To help keep others warm without setting oneself on fire.
I think that trait has let Meghan help more people than most of us will in their lifetimes. To me, she's a reminder that selfishness and selflessness aren't a binary choice.
They're a balance that, when properly struck, help others and ourselves as much as possible.