The bridge from Biloxi to Ocean Springs looks like it’s a mile long.
It carries us over the bay. At the top of bridge Jo and I come to a stop. There’s a bench looking out over the water, a plaque posted on the wall reads, Lil Caruso. Only a few Sunday joggers and cyclist were making their way back and forth along the 12 foot divided shoulder.
One man approaches me on his bike as I was sitting there with Jo. I immediately recognized that he was inebriated and looked like he hadn’t been hugged in a year.
What came out of this mans mouth was heavy. He talked about the effect the war had on him, the death of his sister, and his parents. He was sad, and drunk. I listened to him for awhile, sensing he needed someone to talk to and that perhaps I needed to hear what he had to say. He pointed at the bench that I had been sitting on, telling me how he’s slept there on more than one occasion. When I wrapped my arms around him as we were saying goodby, he cried a tear. I left believing that this was a divinely inspired human connection.
When I had first pedaled into town, I was passing by Val’s Bar & Grill. I was checking out the band on her outdoor patio, listening to the music as I rolled by slowly. Jo had his head sticking out of the trailer. Val was sitting out front with her friends and hollered at me to park my bike and join them. On Sunday’s, she host’s an all-u-can-eat crawfish boil bringing a large group from the neighborhood together. Val treated me to an unlimited number of these mud-bugs. After eating thirty or forty of them, I’m still not sure if I like them. They’re just weird. But it was really kind of her to feed me. I was hungry. She’s a Mississippi food angel.
Charlie, he’s from Charlotte, South Carolina. But last night he was in Ocean Springs. I met him when I stopped by Murky Waters Blues & BBQ down the street from Val’s. There was a band playing outdoors on this patio too, and he had sat in on the cajon.
When the music died, we started talking. I’m often asked what inspired me to ride my bike cross country, with my dog. When that happens, I tell them about Operation Elf Box, sharing the mission and the vision: to create a brighter Christmas for children, everywhere.
Charlie tells me how he also likes to reach out to folks at Christmas time. He says he goes in search of those who are to proud to ask for help, and provides meals to those families. He also volunteers at his local non profit, where they also put food in the hands of the hungry. He choked up a bit when he was talking about it. I could tell he was a man with passion and that he enjoyed doing for others.
That reminded me of a ‘love project’ that some of us came together on a while back. I told Charlie the story.
It was December 2012, I learned about a family that had just moved to Bend. The job they had relocated for hadn’t worked out. The husband took another one selling knives instead. His wife was at home with their two young ones. She said a friend at church told her about Operation Elf Box and that’s why she called me. I was going to schedule her an appointment to come in and shop for her children, complimentary. That’s when she told me that she had no groceries and was hopeful to find a food box. The Christmas gifts were not her priority, feeding her children was.
I became a voice for them that afternoon. I posted on Facebook, asking all of my friends to gather a bag of groceries from their houses, that I would do a lap around town in my car and pick them all up. I recall stopping by a dozen homes or so, saying hi to friends, making a few new ones, and filling my car to the brim with food for the family.
It was after dark and very cold when I pulled into their driveway, backing my van up to the door. I unloaded one bag of groceries after another into their home. There was a huge variety. And there were a few tears and hugs; another beautiful human connection.
I think what was most significant about that evening, is that someone asked for help, and we all came together, responding with love.