Saturday, September 16, 2006

God Helps Those Who Help Them Shelve

Tonight I worked on unpacking one of the boxes remaining from my recent move, going through copies of magazines my late (great-)Aunt Alma had saved that contained her writings. As I paged through the magazines, I thought about where I would put them — on my high, unused kitchen shelves — and wished I had some stackable plastic boxes. I had recently bought some of those clear ones with white plastic lids from Staples, but was reluctant to buy more because they are ugly and because, well, I should be concentraiting on throwing things out rather than storing things.

But those boxes really could help, I thought — especially with my 1,000 cassettes which I will probably never listen to again but can't bear to toss. I could even store some boxes in my oven, which I haven't used since I moved in four and a half months ago.

I broke off unpacking to take a load of clothes downstairs to the laundry room. As I walked out of my unit, I saw my next door neighbor leaving with her hands full of stuff she was apparently taking out to the Dumpster. I had been wanting to meet my neighbor because I had been told she was old and lived alone, and I wanted her to know I was there if she needed help. Whenever I see an old woman, I think about my Aunt Alma and how she needed people to be there for her as she got less able to do things for herself. But I had never knocked on my neighbor's door, because the two building residents who had told me about her had added that she was crazy.

I asked the hunched-over old woman, loaded down with stuff, if I could carry her things for her. She made a sort of grunt that suggested I wasn't needed. I asked her again and she stopped for a moment to put down her load, but then got up and resumed her march toward the door.

I did managed to open the door for her and she grunted a "thank you." Then I brought my laundry downstairs, but quickly went back up because I realized the old woman might not have taken her key. I wouldn't be helping her much if I let her out only to leave her there overnight.

So I let her back in and she grunted a "thank you" again and added in a choked kind of voice that she couldn't talk. I couldn't tell if she was literally unable to talk or if the voices in her head weren't allowing her to talk. Either way, when I got back down to the laundry room, I said St. Maximilian Kolbe's version of the Miraculous Medal prayer for her: "O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for those who have recourse to thee, and those who have no recourse, especially the enemies of the Church, and those who have made their petitions known to thee."

Immediately, as I said the prayer to myself, it hit me

She was throwing away plastic boxes.

Surely, I thought, they must have been old, broken boxes, not the nice ones with the white lids. But I rushed outside just the same.

There they were, stacked neatly next to the Dumpster: Eight clear plastic boxes, like new, just the right size to fit on my kitchen shelves (or in the oven) — and a white lid for each one.

And yes, I am washing them in soap and hot water, even though they appear to be cleaner than anything else in my place.