Our outing last week to Trout Lake, Washington, had been a delight, and we were heading back to the hot city and home. Our route had taken us down winding roads, across the mighty Columbia, through Hood River, onto more out-of-the-way roads south to Parkdale and vast orchards with trees, rooted in rich volcanic soil, heavy with ripening fruit, and astounding views of Mt. Hood, then onto Highway 35 which brought us around Mt. Hood to Highway 26, with its even more astounding, up-close views of the mountain, that would take us all the way into the city.
A few miles into our drive on 26, we were suddenly surrounded by purring of Porsches, speeding past us on that four-lane highway, dozens of them, black, silver, green, blue, red, white, yellow, sporty, sleekly, beautiful. On our left was the grandeur or a giant, ancient volcano and its glaciers, behind, beside, and before us, a small river of human excellence in a rainbow of colors. That river of gorgeous cars soon turned off into Government Camp, once I suppose a tiny mountain village on the southwest slope of Mt. Hood, now a popular summer tourist attraction and in winter, a busy ski resort. We followed the Porsches in our stocky, little xB Scion, drawn by hunger. It was lunch time, and we sought out a restaurant we’d enjoyed on a previous visit but turned away from it because there was no obvious handicap access to that place half way up to a second story in that steeply slanted town.
Nevertheless, after looking elsewhere—and not choosing the swanky place where all the Porsches were parked—we returned to that restaurant, Annette managing with much effort but very hungry, to climb eight or nine steps, with the heat of the sunshine at that altitude as much an issue as the steepness of the stairs. All that effort paid off with a superb vegetarian sub sandwich, made extra delicious by plenty of tangy, earthy chevre cheese.
As we sat on the outside porch enjoying that good meal, I noticed a wheelchair lift and wondered how I’d missed it earlier, then left to ask a helpful waitperson what we must do to use it. “Oh my,” she replied, forlornly, “It’s out of order.” Checking out the lift more closely then, I saw it was well-rusted and likely had been out of order through many seasons of winter snow and summer tourism. It was really dead, leaving no option but that Annette use the stairs again, and she began her slow, laborious descent.
Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a man appeared beside us, scruffily dressed in brown, outdoor clothes, with a slouchy brown hat and scraggly beard, height tending toward small, very lean, and attempted to help Annette. I was sure she would reject help, and she did so abruptly. The man turned away, offended, I supposed. I watched him walk toward an up-to-date, not at all scruffy, white, heavy-duty pickup across the street. He’d probably seen Annette on the stairs as he alighted from his truck and had hurriedly crossed the street to lend a hand. I was feeling rather chagrined and perhaps a little ashamed that we had hurt him by fending off his help, and I continued to watch as he left his truck and entered a tent on the street corner that advertised fresh cherries, which are right now in the midst of their high season. Apparently he was the proprietor of that tent, maybe the grower of the fruit. I wondered if perhaps I should stop to buy cherries from him to pacify my unpleasant feelings. I didn’t.
Slowly and carefully we turned right to cross the main street through town to our little xB, turning our backs to the cherry stand, when again that man surprised us, in the middle of the street, carrying a white plastic grocery bag he held out to us. “Here,” he said, “on the house.” I could see the bag was heavy with cherries and . . . we did not wave them away. Those cherries turned out to be by far the largest and sweetest we’d had this season. Somehow, with that totally unexpected extra kindness, he gave us a gift not only of sweet fruit but of understanding and forgiveness.
There’s a sequel to this lovely story. It is now early Monday morning, and I am in my usual place at Friends Meeting House where my dear friend, Tommee Carlisle, brings me every week for Bible study, and we are working with the ending verses of James, chapter 4, with these words: “Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for (them) it is sin.”
Somehow the discussion turns toward our obligation to help people in need, and the important consideration that we respect the integrity of those we help–and my thoughts take me back to the scruffy fruit vendor in Government Camp, and I wonder if he knew and lived by those words of James. A needy, old lady, and an equally old man, could use his strong assistance; to fail to help would be sinful, but then his willingness to help was shunned. What shall we do when our help is slapped away? How do we know when our help isn’t helping? How do we keep from being wounded and resentful and demoralized?
Why, we just come back offering a bag of ripe, delicious cherries!