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“The sea and the earth are unfaithful to their children:
A truth, a faith, a generation of men goes—
and is forgotten, and it does not matter!
Except, perhaps, to the few of those who
believed the truth,
confessed the faith—
or loved the men.”

                                                                            Joseph Conrad

I read about Mary and John years ago—in an article I clipped out of the newspaper, read through, and then filed away in a drawer full of newspaper clippings.

But I never forgot them.

It was just one of those small sidebars in the local newspaper.  Not a big news story.  Not a story that brought down governments, revealed the discovery a new gene, or altered the course of history.  Not a story that really mattered a whole lot.  Except, perhaps, for the people involved.

Her name was Mary.  She was a sixty-eight year old black woman who lived in downtown Houston.  Her husband John was over seventy.  Mary had a job. Every morning she got out of bed, loaded up a box with bread, jars of peanut butter and jelly, and a spreading knife or two.  And then she took to the street below the small inner city apartment where she and John lived.  She set up a small table not far from one of the homeless shelters, and she starting making sandwiches for the hungry.  For the homeless.  For every poor wayfaring stranger who came along.  

And she did this day after day after day.

Mary and John were not wealthy people.  They were probably barely scraping by, themselves.  They didn’t live in a “loft.”  They didn’t live in the chi-chi part of town.  They lived in a small apartment near the homeless shelter.

She wasn’t part of a massive city charity drive or a high profile campaign to feed the homeless.  She certainly wasn’t a member of the Junior League or part of the Houston high-society-do-gooders ilk.  She made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, because that was something she could do.  She did it because there were folks who needed help, and she could do something about that.

She gave them food.  She gave them a friendly smile.  And, as she liked to refer to it, she gave them Bible.  “I give ’em Bible, because everybody needs a bit of scripture everyday.”

John stood by her side and offered help wherever it was needed.  “This is Mary’s job,” he was quoted as saying in the article.  “This is what she does. I’m just here to lend a hand.”

I think about people like Mary and John, and I am humbled.  I realize how little I do in service.  Yes, I have charities that I contribute to and charitable programs that I work with.  I occasionally hand out cash to bedraggled sign-bearers on street corners.

But to stand tirelessly on the sidewalk…for hours.  To make sandwiches and put them into the hands of those who are hungry…for hours.  To recite scripture to those who are starving for something far more valuable than food…

I don’t do that.  People like Mary did.

People like Mary are the real hands and feet of God.

Funny how memories come back to you at wayward moments.  I simply read an obituary in the newspaper the other day, and the story of a stranger who had died triggered the memory of a woman named Mary whom I’d read about so many years back.

Some people just seem to be living life a little bolder than the rest of us.  I’m pretty sure, because of the many years since I read that article, that Mary and John have gone over Jordan by now.   I’m sure Mary is telling God all about the people she met on the sidewalk near the homeless shelter.  I’m sure she remembers the names of the people she fed peanut butter sandwiches to or gave Bible to.  And, I’m sure she is telling those names to God, as well.

I wish I were more like Mary.