one arm, a dead cat, cancer

It’s hard to give up when you think of someone else. It’s not as easy to pity yourself when you consider your kids and parents, your siblings and strangers. All too often we exaggerate the severity of our aches and pains, misfortune and loss because we’re focused on our own desires—our so-called needs and wants.

If we could just remember the others.

The smiling young man working the cash register at Wal-Mart. Scanning groceries, tallying totals, bagging everything up, as he talks with my wife, jokes with my kids, and I put full bags into the cart. When he hands me the receipt and wishes me Happy Holidays, I finally notice he’s got only one arm. My kids and wife have not let on as if they’ve noticed anything, so as I load groceries into the backseat and everyone buckles in, I look long and hard at my fingers and hands and I ask my family, “Was that kid missing an arm?” All of them groan and roll their eyes and wonder at my lack of perception.

The woman in the rusted out minivan with the half-flat rear left tire. She stops suddenly and parks across both lanes of traffic on Washington Street so she can pick a dying, big fluffy cat from the pavement and walk—tears streaming down her face—from door to door, asking each person she meets, “Is this kitty yours?” Cars buzz around her van and honk and people shout out their windows, but she does not hear them. She wraps the cat into her coat, sets it on her lap and drives to the vet to have it put down.

A four-year old girl up before the sun on Christmas morning. She walks across the cold, dirty floor, down the hallway toward the living room. Mom’s told her that she doesn’t think Santa’s coming this year, but she knows better and has hope even as she walks past her Mom, passed out and snoring, cigarette still burning in an ashtray balancing on the arm of the couch. The small plastic tree is lit. The red and blue lights twinkle and warm her and she sits down quietly to pray—not for gifts or candy or for a cure for the cancer that’s eating away her bones—but just to capture a glimpse of Saint Nick coming to her home.

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