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: the good, the bad, and the jalapenos :
Sunday morning I opened my email to find an article about 9/11. My first thought: Oh, yeah—it is September 11th. I had forgotten about that. My second thought: Shouldn’t this have been on my radar?
Throughout the day, I read several other posts about the tragic, life-altering day. Everyone remembers 9/11—unless you were very young on September 11, 2001. And even then, you’ve probably heard your parents talk about it or you learned about it in school. 9/11 is universal.
Like many, I thought about where I was that day. I had just arrived at a prenatal appointment when my (then) husband called me. I checked in at the front desk then settled into a chair with my eyes glued to the television like every other woman in the room. I’m not sure if I rested a hand on my belly, round with a growing Jonah, but I do remember thinking:
I’m bringing another child into this horrible world.
I had similar thoughts when I checked into a hospital room after my water broke on April 20, 1999. As I labored to deliver my first child Noah, news of the Columbine shootings unfolded. My joy and excitement was subdued with shock and sadness that this was happening in a high school. Teenagers died. Teenagers did this.
What kind of world am I bringing this baby into?
As I considered 9/11, my mind wandered down a rabbit hole (as it so often does) before it eventually landed on a blue basket of green jalapenos. Strange, I know, but stick with me here.
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Recently I stayed in Little Rock with my brother for three weeks, ferrying him back and forth to the Cancer Institute for lab work, infusions, doctor appointments, and and his 30-day bone marrow biopsy. Each morning when we arrived, he would be called back for the procedure(s) du jour and I would settle into a spot in the corner of the waiting area and fire up my laptop. As I worked, I paused occasionally to observe those filling other seats.
A man bent forward while his companion rubbed his back as though to comfort him.
A guy with a noticeable growth bulging under his bright yellow shirt spoke animatedly to a woman facing him.
“Mr. Dupree,” a nurse called most mornings for a man with cornrows and cargo shorts.
Next to a frail woman with a beautiful scarf wrapped around her head that bobbed while she dozed, a man hid behind an unfolded newspaper.
What kind of fresh hell is he reading today?
Because that’s what it seems the news is filled with these days, and I choose not to partake. The TV in our home is rarely turned on (usually only when the kids visit), and I mostly avoid news sites and social media. Some people may think less of me for that, but a friend recently messaged me:
“My husband says I’m not being responsible because I ‘need to be informed.’ The only difference between him and me is he is worried and angry all the time. I blissfully enjoy cooking shows and long walks these days.”
I ascribe to that attitude, and I’m not sorry. But let’s be real—there’s really no way to avoid hearing about the atrocities humans inflict on each other.
In just those three weeks with my brother, news of tragedy and hurt still reached me (feel free to skip right over the list below if you are particularly sensitive):
A school teacher and mom was kidnapped and murdered in Memphis.
In an unrelated incident in Memphis, people sheltered in place when a man drove around the city shooting random people before livestreaming his final slaughter on social media.
Two brothers ruthlessly stabbed multiple people in their Indigenous community in Saskatchewan, Canada, killing 10 and wounding 15.
Firestorms raged in California, and flooding decimated parts of Kentucky.
In my own state of Mississippi, a young man stole an airplane in Tupelo and threatened to crash it into a local Wal-Mart. He posted a suicidal goodbye to his family on social media before (thankfully) crash landing the plane in a field after running out of fuel.
In our capital city of Jackson, floodwaters caused a catastrophic failure at a water treatment facility, leaving hundreds of thousands of residents without running water for days. They had already been on a boil notice for a month due to the crumbling infrastructure.
In my small town, a 23-year-old man died at the hands of a 19-year-old man. I’d like to say this is unusual, but it happens several times a year.
Two community members messaged me, asking if I knew of any place to rent in our town. It reminded me of some of the terrible conditions I found people living in when I worked for the 2020 Census. Many are at the mercy of landlords who refuse to fix issues knowing the tenants have nowhere else to go.
We are living in some evil times that can bring you down if you dwell on it.
Those three weeks away from home—spent mostly indoors with the television on and with a constant reminder of the disease that wrecks so many lives—nearly brought me down. But a chance encounter with a basket of jalapenos reminded me that good still exists.
I got out for an early morning walk on my last day with my brother in his temporary housing.I could feel the promise of cooler days in that 66-degree air as I rounded the bend in the apartment complex and noticed a mother herding her two young children to the car. The father, looking a little less put together, stood at the door, helping with backpacks and shoe laces.
On my second time around the complex, I noticed something on the sidewalk where I had seen the family. As I closed in, I realized it was a plastic blue basket with a sheet of paper attached. Ever the curious one, I slowed my pace and turned up the walk to investigate.
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The bottom of the basket was covered in massive green jalapenos with one red pepper peeking from underneath its siblings. With three more laps on my agenda, I walked on, but something changed in me.
I considered the myriad of people living in those apartments–different races, religions, family dynamics. Short people, tall people, young people, old people, large people, small people—every individual different. But how much kindness and thoughtfulness filled those apartments? How many smiles and grateful hearts? How much capacity for love—no, not just capacity, but willingness to love?
I passed a maple tree that had been in the shade on my first time around, ordinary until the sun set it ablaze in orange and red.
I turned another corner, and another mother—this one wearing a burka—was rushing a young girl and a sloth-paced teenage boy to their vehicle. The little girl looked up at me with carefree brown eyes and said, “Hello!”
Her smile was sunlight.
“Good morning!” I replied.
I crossed over to the next sidewalk and encountered a man dressed for the office, his smile a contrast against his richly colored skin as he nodded and bid me, “Good morning.” My cheeks hurt from smiling so much.
Life is good—it really is—even when things seem to be falling apart. And people are good. Perhaps not every single one, but most if we take the time to notice.
After my walk, I stepped inside the apartment and retrieved the pack of Mr. Rogers notecards I’d brought with me. I carefully selected one with two pairs of shoes—brown leather dress shoes and navy blue canvas Top Siders—set against a bright yellow background.
“To the Gardener(s)
Thank you so much for the jalapenos. How thoughtful of you!
- a grateful neighbor”
I quickly walked down the sidewalk to the basket and selected three beautiful vegetables and replaced them with the note.
I’m reminded of The Red Wheelbarrow, a poem by William Carlos Williams.
I love what Anna O’Neil wrote about Williams’ 16-word poem:
“Williams has given us a glimpse of an absolutely mundane, ordinary scene, which is actually bursting at the seams with details that tell us exactly what it is that depends on the red wheelbarrow, the glaze of rainwater, and the white chickens. Humanity depends on these things. Not just because of their tremendous usefulness, but because of their ordinary loveliness as well.”
I think it illustrates perfectly what I mean when I say so much depends upon a blue basket of green jalapenos.
How can you show a small kindness for someone today?
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people…”
I cannot express enough gratitude for the ladies who have relieved the concern of my brother over where he would stay post transplant.
“Goodness Village provides affordable apartment housing in Little Rock, Arkansas, for patients and families who require outpatient medical treatment.”
Galatians 6:9-10 (NIV), Holy Bible