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Thursday, 31 July 2014

Everybody Has a Story

By Wendl Kornfeld

It was 1991 and my husband and I were doing regular volunteer work at our synagogue’s soup kitchen - called the Sunday Lunch Program - where we prepared over 100 meals for (mostly) homeless people.

Our guests were seated at tables set for eight with white cloths and small vases of flowers, and served hot coffee, soup, sandwiches, fruit, salad and dessert.

Most of our guests were males of all ages and as we got to know the repeaters, we knew that many were drug dependent or had mental illnesses. Many had scary anger issues. We lunch preparers and servers were instructed to smile, be pleasant and polite but not to reveal our last names or get into any conversation that might be provocative.

One Sunday Douglas, a Scottish friend visiting us, came along to help prepare the lunch. Douglas’ accent soon caught the attention of an elderly black man seated at one of the tables. I overheard Douglas share that he was originally from Scotland, whereupon the lunch guest asked where he’d gone to school.

“St. Andrews,” was the response.

“Oh,” replied our guest wistfully, “I always wanted to play the Old Course.”

Now, remember. This was years before most of us had heard the name Tiger Woods. How many African-Americans golfers could any of us have named at that time?

I marveled that this elderly black man not only had had dreams of playing golf, but big dreams of playing St. Andrews’ Old Course!

I realized with a shock how easy it had been to conclude that I already knew all I needed to know about this guest – i.e., he was old, poor, under-educated, probably messed up his life and now needed a free meal. How easily I might have forgotten him once my stint in the kitchen was over that day. Instead, he gifted me an important lesson.

It led to a turning point, not just in how I began treating our subsequent Sunday Lunch Program guests, but strangers in general. I also started taking more time with people whom I knew only in a relatively narrow context, such as people in the neighborhood, or work colleagues.

Looking back, I’m haunted at how often I had probably always judged people out of hand, drawing conclusions that were - if not totally off-base - certainly incomplete? Who, and what, had I missed out on knowing?

Everybody has a story and often, more than one. If we only take the time to ask, then listen well, we will know them.

The Old Course? Of course.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I love this, especially the last line! Everybody has a story, but not everybody is a writer! Having worked in the same SLP and had a similar experience, I can really empathize.

INDEED! We each have much to share through our stories. Thank you for sharing one of yours.

The title of your story is why I love this storytelling site. Very often I go back and read stories that were published before I even knew of this section on Ronni's blog. Thank you Wendl!

Great story and well told! It reminded me of those same situations serving the people using the homeless shelter for the night. I wondered about their backgrounds but never took the time to chat. Sadly, we had to serve over a hundred in a short amount of time. Thanks for the lesson.

Wendl, this is an awesome example but i know how well you have learned this life lesson as i see you incorporate it in your daily living !
A great share . a great reminder and insight.

What a beautiful vignette and reminder that our opportunities to learn and grow are always around us - if we're looking. Thank you, Wendl, for sharing this rich and so well-written moment with us.

Wendl, your story reminds us that we have to slow down and take the time to get to know those around us. Well said.

Cara mia cugina! What a delightful and poignant message. I, for one, know there is more to your story than that one, so ... keep writing! I look forward to reading more of you soon! Love always, your cugina Lia.

People always have special things about them that make it worth our time to get to know them. Thanks for reminding us.

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