Last night’s storms shredded leaves and tore branches from trees. Leaves and twigs and broken limbs litter the streets this morning. The forest floor outside my window, normally a sea of brown leaves, is speckled with green leaves and sprigs, casualties of the fierce winds and biting horizontal rain that accompanied a series of powerful squalls.

As I drove to the grocery store this morning not long after daybreak, I had to dodge pieces of trees along the way. When I got to the store, I was surprised how few people were in the aisles; but the flow of humanity continued after my arrival.

A couple of items on my list were from the area around the pharmacy. While looking for shampoo and a specific dosage of a vitamin, I heard a man at the pharmacy counter say to the pharmacist, “Let me go home and get it; I’ll be right back.”

As I turned to go up an aisle, the man approached me. “Excuse me, sir, would you have $12 you could give me to pick up my prescription? I left my wallet at home”

I was in a charitable mood, so I opened my wallet. I did not have $12 in bills, but I did have a twenty; I handed it to him. He thanked me and said he would bring me the change. I went about looking for the vitamins and glanced over at the pharmacy counter. He was there. I continued looking. No luck; they were out. I looked back at the pharmacy counter. The man was gone. I looked around the area a bit; no sign of him. Apparently he left with my change. I’m not absolutely certain he was actually at the counter to buy anything; I may have been scammed. Oh, well. My guess is that he needed either the prescription or the money or both more than I needed that $20 bill.

I thought about that man as I drove home with the groceries. I wondered whether his life had been shredded in some fashion. Perhaps the corona virus had put him out of work. He was dressed in what appeared to be the type of uniform an air conditioning service person might wear, so maybe he’s back at work. I could venture a million guesses about him and be wrong about every one. For whatever reason, I felt and still feel compassion for the guy, even though he took my money and left.

I feel a different kind of compassion for a neighbor, a woman for whom I picked up a few items at the store this morning. She is dealing with a husband whose health is in steep decline. She told my wife that a hospice worker is coming today to talk about next steps in putting her husband in hospice. I don’t know either of the two of them especially well, but I imagine the idea of hospice might be shredding their peace of mind, though she must feel a sense of relief that part of her difficult duties in tending to her husband will be reduced. Yet feeling relief can trigger a competing sense of guilt, even when the decision is in the best interests of everyone. Ach, reality can shred serenity into threads.

When I delivered the neighbor’s bread and milk and orange juice, she gave me $12 in cash for the $11+ I spent on those items. I felt guilty taking that money, knowing what she is going through and thinking that I gave $20 to a man who might well have been scamming me. My faith in humanity sometimes comes unraveled. That disbelief in the innate goodness of humankind stares at me as I look in the mirror, wondering whether I, too, am unworthy of the confidence that I am, at my core, good. Should I have refused the $12, looking at the expenditure as a payment for a lesson learned?

I don’t know. Morality seems to be laughable these days. Decency is evidence of weakness, a badge of powerlessness. Mother Nature’s storms last night are not the only forces tearing the world around me into shreds. Emotional storms are doing the same thing. They are not as visible, but they are just as destructive. The fabric of nature heals itself. I suppose the fabric that clothes a scarred psyche does the same; we just have to give the scars time to tie the shreds together.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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