Aventine

This guest post is written by Abbi Telander, UUMC's Communications and Office Manager. One of Abbi's jobs is to take care of our neighbors who come to use our Church Door food pantry.

Michael is a regular at our Church Door food pantry. I am almost 100 percent certain he's homeless. He dumpster dives and recently told me he mostly eats ramen noodles people throw out by the case -- or at least he did until the mug broke that he used to heat up the noodles at 7-11.

He's been coming around for over a year now, and he often makes requests I can't fulfill. He's a diabetic, and always wants orange juice. His request for a backpack or a duffel bag was what prompted me to put out the request for these things. He will often trade whatever he's wearing for something on our clothing rack. Long and lanky with feet at least a size 12, he finds it hard to get himself something clean and new-to-him to wear. He could always use a new pair of socks.

When he came by on Tuesday, he was wearing a neon yellow hard hat and carrying what appeared to be a magician's wand and a brand-new, still-in-shrinkwrap LP. I got him some bus passes and he looked through the toiletries until he came up with some soap that would work on his sensitive skin. "Can I take this toothpaste? I been brushing my teeth with soap. Most people think that sounds eeeeeeghsh, but" shrug "it's better than not brushing at all." I found him some new pants -- 36x32. He wouldn't take any food -- all he really wanted was orange juice, and we had none.

Then he showed me the LP he was carrying. "You ever heard of her?"

I admitted that I had never heard of Agnes Obel but I thought the cover was gorgeous.

"I found this while I was dumpster diving. Brand-new, in the wrap, doesn't smell or anything." He looked at it, and looked at me. "Here, you take it. It's like a gift. To say thank you."

I was so taken aback I almost didn't remember to say thank you.

"You listen to it and let me know how it is. I want to know how it sounds."

I promised I would. With a kind word to my daughter Erin thanking her for letting me help him, he headed out the door.

I carefully sliced open the shrinkwrap and shook out the CD that came with the vinyl. Too impatient to wait until I got home to put the album on the turntable, I slid Aventine into my computer. 

Quiet, lovely, deliberate piano music filled the front office -- the kind of music that fills your lungs as well as your ears. The first track, an instrumental piece, led seamlessly into the second. A haunting voice sang, "Do you want me on your mind or do you want me to go on...?"

All day, I thought of Michael, whose meals depend on what he can find and if his mug is intact and if the guy who lets him use the microwave without buying anything is working that day. I thought of all the times he comes in asking for orange juice and me having to tell him no, of his stories of being harassed on the street and in jail. I thought of the holy water he makes room for in his bag, of the holey socks he wrings out when he comes in out of the rain. When he leaves, I never feel like I've done enough for him, and yet he left me a gift. I've written all these words and I still don't feel like I've properly conveyed to you how humbled I am.

I love the album, and encourage you to listen to it at your convenience -- Agnes Obel has won many awards in her native Denmark, and her classical training shows -- but as you do, keep a spare thought or prayer out there for Michael and all those like him who carry their lives in their backpacks or duffel bags.