December 1998
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Waiting for Someone Else to Save the World


By John Wise

For some reason, people have a history of confiding in me. I must look like someone who wants to listen and can keep a secret. Every morning when I look in the mirror, I see a guy who I wouldn't trust with Girl Scout Cookie money- but that's just me, I guess. I went to the grocery store to buy some cereal and a few other little things this morning. I ate the last of the cereal yesterday and I can't go without it for more than a day so I thought I would stop on my way to work. I was standing in line reading the headlines of the tabloids - amazed that a four thousand pound man found his missing wife in the folds of his stomach - when a casually dressed old man walked up to me.

"Getting cold outside isn't it son?" he said as he reached for a newspaper.

"It sure is but I don't mind it."

"That's the attitude, you need to enjoy it while it lasts. I just went to the doctor this morning and I found out I have cancer all through me," he answered calmly.

"Sir that's terrible, I'm sorry to hear that," I said as look of shock embodied my face.

"Just don't tell my wife. It'll kill her," he said as he hurriedly walked away with his newspaper towards an old lady pushing a shopping cart.

It'll kill her? What about what it is going to do to him. That man is so worried about how his wife is going to take the news that I don't think he realizes or cares what's going to happen to him. He should be spending his last few weeks being comforted and consoled by his family. I guess he doesn't want to make them worry. Maybe he feels a sudden death is the easiest for them to handle. Or maybe he feels if he just ignores it, it will go away. Why did he have to tell me this? I wonder if it helped him to get it off his chest and onto mine?

"Six seventy five, please."

"Huh?"

"Sir, your total comes to six seventy five."

I smiled and handed the cashier the correct change. "Here you go."

"You have a nice day," she said as she forced a half-hearted smile and cracked her gum.

"Thanks," I said as I grabbed my groceries, buttoned my coat, and rushed off to my car. Things like that happen to me on a daily basis. I wondered who was going to confide in me next.

I got into my car and looked around I began to feel a little better. I noticed the leaves on the trees changing colors. This time of year is always my favorite I thought to myself; I love when Old Man Winter's clammy hand turns summer's heat into fall's chill. I wish I could capture the old man's cologne in the biting wind and bottle it for those scorching summer days when I could pull it out and smell it and cool off for a brief moment. I sat and daydreamed for a few moments longer when a chill rose up my spine from the cold leather seats in my car. It was just about time I got a new coat. The experts had said upcoming winter was going to be a rough one and my old coat was worn so much that it's stitches were coming undone in the back. I guess five years is about the maximum life for a coat and it was about time I did something about it. I quickly decided I would go and look for one at the mall right next to my office building during lunch. I started my car and headed east for work.

"Hello sir, is there anything I can help you with?" said the sales girl who seemed to be practicing her Christmas sales technique.

"No, I am just looking thank you."

"Well, I'll be right over here if you need anything."

Anything? I wonder what they mean when they say that? Sure, I could use a shoeshine. I might be much more inclined to buy one of these overpriced coats if I got a good shoeshine out of the deal. The sales girl approached again.

Maybe she read my mind. "Pardon me sir? Didn't you go to high school with my brother?"

I looked at her nametag and saw it said Jenn. "Jenn Goodwin, is that you?"

"Yeah it sure is. How have you been?"

"Good. You've really grown up. I didn't recognize you. How is your brother Ronnie doing?"

"Ronnie is getting along okay, I guess. He seems to be doing a little better since he figured out he is gay."

"What? Gay? Ronnie?"

"Yeah, I was shocked too when I first found out but now I'm happy for him. When he told me about a month ago I just couldn't believe it. But I am glad he at least told someone. If the rest of my family ever found out, they'd disown him."

I suddenly thought back to all those times we changed clothes in the gym locker room. "I don't know what to say. Tell him congratulations and good luck, I guess." I quickly said goodbye and I left in a sort of daze. Good luck? That's all I could say? Couldn't she have spared me of that? Why couldn't she have said hello and had a normal conversation with me? It would have been a comfort not knowing one of my best friends in high school liked men. Why me? Didn't she have girlfriends or a psychologist she could discuss her bother's problems with?

As I walked out of the mall and back to my office I thought about the world not always being such a blissful place but why did I have to hear about so much of it? Everyday I hear enough to make me feel sick to my stomach and I feel sorry for all those people. But I just didn't feel like they were my problems. For the rest of the day I tried to forget about everyone else's business.

When I got home from work, though, I started thinking about some of the things I've heard over my lifetime and I figured it was about time I stopped being so surprised. I just wish I knew what to say to these people to help.

There was one time when a girl no older than sixteen sat down next to me in the park. She told me she was having an abortion the next day and she was scared. I didn't know what to say but something would have been better than nothing. I just got up and left. Just think I could have possibly saved another human's life but I walked away.

Another time a man came up to me at a ball game while I was eating a hot dog and told me he was cheating on his wife. I nodded and told him to enjoy the ballgame as I walked away as fast as I could. I may have been able to save a marriage or to at least help it end before it got even farther along. And Ronnie, I could have asked for his number and called him and told him it didn't bother me. Or I just could have listened and helped him get some things out in the open. That must go a long way for people.

But what did I need to know these things for? Do I look like a marriage counselor, a priest, or like a lot of people's best friends? I needed some fresh air. I threw on my tattered old coat and decided to go for a walk in the park to clear my head. The air in the park was cool but it smelled clean like it always does in the fall. I sat down on the bench under the oak tree. I just started to clear my head when a clean-cut stranger approached me out of the darkness.

"Okay if I sit here?" he said in a slight Scottish accent. I don't care where you sit I thought. I slid over as to invite him to sit if he wanted.

"Not in a friendly mood tonight?" he said.

"Not right now, today has been especially difficult for me," I said.

"Indeed, it has been difficult for me too-"

"Listen sir," I interrupted. "I don't want to hear about how your wife just left you, or how your father beat you when you were a kid, or how you have some kind of disease. I don't even want to know if your goldfish died. I just want to sit here and forget about today."

"Forget about today? What for?"

"I don't know. I am just so tired of this world; it is so full of suffering. I hear about it everyday from strangers and I wonder why God, if there is one up there, doesn't send help to these sick and tired people. The Lord should know they need it."

"Send help?" The Scottish stranger chuckled quietly.

"What's funny about that?" I questioned.

"He sent you," the man answered.

"Me?" I asked.

"Yeah, He sent YOU. So be thankful and do something about it and quit waiting for everyone else to do it."

"I don't think there is a lot I can do for any of these people. I am not a savior," I said.

"You're not 'ey? Me neither, but look what I am doin' for you," he said.

"What are you doing for me?" I asked.

"I am listening and giving you advice the best I know how. It may not be good advice but I'm speaking my mind. At the same time you're getting to talk out your problems," he said.

"I guess you're right but I'm still not sure what I can do."

"You have a nice night young man," he said as he got up and walked away. Probably to go feed starving pigeons or house the homeless or something, I thought.

I got up and started heading back home. Some things the old Scotsman said started to make some sense. I thought about what the old man did for me. I felt better just knowing that someone else knew how I felt and could relate to it. Maybe that's what I should have done to all the people who confided in me.

When I got back to my apartment, there was message on my answering machine.

It was Ronnie. For a second, I thought to myself Not another one... but then I thought about the old man. So I did something I have never done before. I called him back and I listened. Then, I told him if he needed a friend or even just someone to talk to - I was always there for him. After two hours, with a couple of get-togethers planned, and one new friend later, I said goodbye. I sat for a moment and I thought about something I realized a long time ago - it is impossible for one man to save the world. But I figured out that there is nothing wrong with trying one person at a time.

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