As we approached the Mississippi headwaters at Itasca, MN We were swarmed by more buts than are in the American Embassy in Moscow. They flew into our mouths when we tried to talk, they flew into our eyes, they were insurmountable and unstoppable. It was my cook-night, and there’s a picture of your poor deacon wearing all his rain gear (this on a humid high-80s late afternoon in July), his head and face wrapped in Buff headgear with only a slit for this eyes, standing over a picnic table tending the cook-stove and pot. I woke up the nest day with the flesh around my eyes puffy from bites.
That nearly broke my will, but what happened a few days later stung in quite a different way. We came to a tourist town in Wisconsin’s Northwoods, maybe a bit west – it’s a mitzvah that I can’t remember its name – and I stopped at a quickie-mart for an energy drink and to fill my water bottles. This was SOP (standard operating procedure): fill your bottles when you can, not when you must, as we were making 70-90 miles a day in unknown lands. Inside I found a hand-printed sign: “No filling water bottles.” I set my purchase on the counter and unscrewed my water bottles, causing the grumpy-pussed clerk to point to the sign and say “You can’t fill them up here.” I asked, “Even with a purchase?” And the clerk frowned that it was so – no water, no how. I left my purchase there and explained – OK, bragged – as I walked – OK, stormed – out that I’d ridden 2500 miles and this was the first time I’d been refused water. The clerk groused something about how much their water cost. OK. But nothing like that happened thereafter, all the way to Maine.
Do not weep for your deacon. And do not let him play the victim or cover himself in righteousness. Ask him how he responds to someone asking for a handout when he’s out on our streets. The only power this memory holds is that it helps me enter into today’s readings in an unaccustomed role: of depending on another. Or so I delude myself. How could that exchange have ended in a way that would have served us both? Maybe there is no other way. How could it have served the Gospel? With this: “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me, and to finish his work” (Jn 4:34). Ride on.