Good Work

TOIL AMONG THE BRIARS

I have a little place in my life where the sun does not quite reach in. Yet, there’s no sorrow there. No grief, nor tears. It is just where I sit and watch the world go by in a parade of achievements, banners of glory and victory unfurled.

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From where I watch, I see fists raised in triumph and backs patted in acknowledgement of success. I see doors of opportunities swing open. I hear names being called. I hear cheers and the happy sounds of a winner’s feast.

And from my little cove-away-from-the-light, I watch and listen. I step out from time to time to cheer on those who need it. Sometimes, I try to whisper, “If you need me, I too can do the same….”, and I smile away my shame when I hear the excuses, and see eyes glaze over and smiles tighten. I know rejection in all its forms.

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You see, I don’t belong to that golden group with the sun in their hair and diamonds for smiles. The people everyone wants on their team, the ones with the Midas touch. I’m the one who shuffles behind those who confidently stride ahead. My spot is in the shadows, whilst others court the sun and its glory. My place is where the winds come to rest, and water ripples end their bloom of circles.

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For some reason, I can never make the crowd of the Sun gods. There is almost never a breach in the circle of gold wherein they reside. Despite my overall contentment doing what I do best, from time to time, a tiny pang of wistfulness finds its way to me when I nurse a dream of glory. When I ask, Why not me, O Lord?

My Jesus’ answer comes to me through Ellen M. Gates:

YOUR MISSION

by Ellen M. H. Gates

If you cannot, on the ocean, sail among the swiftest fleet,
Rocking on the highest billows, laughing at the storms you meet,
You can stand among the sailors, anchored yet within the bay,
You can lend a hand to help them, as they launch their boats away.

If you are too weak to journey up the mountain steep and high,
You can stand within the valley, while the multitudes go by;
You can chant in happy measure, as they slowly pass along;
Though they may forget the singer, they will not forget the song.

If you have not gold and silver ever ready to command;
If you cannot toward the needy reach an ever open hand;
You can visit the afflicted, o’er the erring you can weep;
You can be a true disciple, sitting at the Savior’s feet.

If you cannot, in the conflict prove, yourself a soldier true,
If, where fire and smoke are thickest, there’s no work for you to do;
When the battlefield is silent, you can go with careful tread,
You can bear away the wounded, you can cover up the dead.

If you cannot, in the harvest, gather up the richest sheaves,
Many a grain both ripe and golden oft the careless reaper leaves;
Go and glean among the briars growing rank against the wall,
For it may be that their shadow hides the heaviest wheat of all.

Do not, then, stand idly waiting, for some greater work to do;
Fortune is a lazy goddess, she will never come to you.
Go and toil in any vineyard, do not fear to do or dare,
If you want a field of labor, you can find it anywhere.

Angel’s Work Done

I made a slightly more fussy chicken dish for Sunday lunch today. I liked the chicken the first time I tasted it cooked this way at a little corner street dinner run by an Indian Muslim of few words but with quiet, watchful eyes. imagesX8M82INM

Compared to the other eateries that line both sides of that busy shopping street, his was understated, clean, the clientele more likely to be busy office workers out for a quick lunch, heads barely raised over their plates, than teenage kids who place a higher premium on ambience and address, and who, thus, rarely made a beeline for this man’s restaurant.

This quiet man had two or three equally quiet workers, all South Indians, I suspect. They didn’t speak the local language, knew little English but they knew the currency well so there were no problems. The restaurant owner only cooked up a few dishes and a soup each lunch time. Simple food cooked from the heart but they were hearty fare.

And one of those dishes was his South Indian peppery chicken dish which made up our Sunday lunch. The first time I ate it was after a tiring day of shopping, and in a mood not improved by hunger, worsened by the crowds that took up every seat in every other restaurant.

But this little eatery beckoned. Simple seats, small tables, clean floors. Quiet waiters. An even more quiet chef who stood afar and watched us discreetly as he washed up his pots and pans. With the busy street just a few feet away, the quiet of the restaurant was a stark contrast to the rushing and honking all around us. It felt almost like a hidden world that lived alongside busyness and mayhem.

And that day, this man’s chicken touched something deep within me. I’ve never been much of a cook but with a house full of small children with huge appetites, I have little choice but to learn to cook decent meals and to cook them fast. I had the usual go-to chicken recipes but I was on the lookout for something new and the chicken this man made that day was different. I knew he had made it right there in a massive wok in a cubicle just off the seating area but it tasted like it had been cooked in aging stoves in old kitchens with big windows, surrounded by huge trees that waved the sunny breezes inside. The hearty meal took the rough edges off the day, and quietened me enough to savor the peace of the little diner.

The following week, staring at the freshly cut chicken in front of me, I decided to recreate the chicken dish I could barely get out of my head. It turned out well, and it has, each time I’ve cooked it.

Some years later, hankering for some more from him, I made my way back to the eatery but he was gone. I stared dumbly at the restaurant in its place, its new waiters meeting my eyes sullenly.

More than his chicken, I missed the island of quiet he had created, the gentle comfort of good and reasonably priced food, the way he helped me realize I didn’t need to follow the crowd in its frazzled rush. In that little space off the crazy street, he offered respite that rested tired feet and hearts. Quiet and unassuming, he did the work of angels.

I turned away in disappointment wishing I knew where the quiet chef had chosen to bloom anew in quietness, offering an angel’s pit stop to refresh those who heaved around dusty and wilting spirits. imagesBEYVFEW3