The Truth beyond the Truth

It was worth $6 to me at the county fair last week to check out the freak show. Even if I had to pay for my husband because he wouldn’t fork over $3 from his own wallet for it. He did agree to follow me into the tent though.

I have to admit I didn’t much expect to be really freaked out. Yes, I saw a “devil’s child” (If I’ve seen one burned doll with horns, I’ve seen 100!). Yes I saw a pygmy bull (much larger than the sign contrasting him with an ice cream cone led me to expect and not particularly freakish!). And yes, I saw a cow with six legs (two dangling from mid-back, not so handy for walking actually).

All of the advertising come-ons were “true,” though the main truth was that this was a sad little exhibit designed to steal $3 from people and keep animals in wretched conditions. The second truth is that I was glad they offered a sink just outside the exit.

Yet it got me thinking about what’s true and why I am a sucker for stories that other people won’t waste their nickel on. I’ve been called gullible by a lot of people. And not a few friends are pretty sure I’ve bought a lot of liquor for a lot of “hungry” people. Actually, I’ve had a lot of good conversations with the same people.

If you are holding up a placard with your own two hands that reads, “Civil War Vet — Haven’t Had a Meal since 1871 — Amputated Hands — Need Money,” I still might give you money. So shoot me!

It’s not that I can’t read. It’s not that I don’t know that the Civil War vets are not standing around too much anymore. It’s just that there would seem to be a “truth beyond the truth.” This guy’s not standing around begging cause it’s fun. And if for some reason it is fun, well there’s another problem there. We weren’t made to beg, or to enjoy it, or to end up hungry and desperate at the mercy of people rushing to Starbucks.

Friday I was in Seattle enjoying an incredible day in a sidewalk cafe.  I love Seattle.  I watched a woman for a long time, holding her “Homeless/Hungry/Need Help” sign absolutely still as she stood on a street corner yards away. For an hour. Absolutely still. Not speaking to anyone. No one speaking to her.

I enjoyed my smoked halibut tacos and my diet Coke with lime and my peanut butter semifreddo alone. But the whole time I ate I fought a temptation to invite the woman with the sign to eat with me. Thinking it would be “too weird,” I didn’t do it.

As I paid for my meal and started to leave, I saw her talking finally with someone else — a guy who looked more down-and-out than she was.

I wanted to stop and give her some money but I absolutely HATE that exchange of “I have something you need; you have nothing I need, and I am not going to look at you but only help you.” I loathe it. I hate it. Did I mention “HATE?” I feel awkward, ashamed and degrading when I do that.

Yet I don’t always know exactly what to talk about nor do I, obviously, feel comfortable saying, “Want to join me for lunch at the ridiculously priced, overly precious, haute cuisine taco hut instead of us paying some rent for you?”

As I approached the (now) two of them, I prayed for the light to change so I would be stuck next to them. I was. I turned around and randomly started talking to them. And then I handed her a $20 bill. At which point the guy winked at me with a wink that lit up his whole face.  And mine.

And then we all three stood around a while trying to figure out what the abstract animal that made up the loop of my hoop earrings was. And this woman knew a lot about sea animals. She talked about sea birds I’d never heard of. I learned stuff. I had fun. We all did, I suspect.

And those are the moments that make it worth not needing to know whether she technically needs my measly money for a good cause.  We needed to have that exchange. At least I know I did.

And now she’s part of “my Seattle.” I already love Seattle. Mars Hill Grad School’s amazing conferences and Dan Allender’s teaching. The Belltown P-Patch Garden. The Edgewater Hotel. The preponderance of salmon on menus. The creativity. The beauty. The man-made beauty paired with the God-made beauty. The tears I cry whenever I leave that place. And now, that woman’s toothless grin, as we spent time trying to decide exactly what my earrings represented.

Maybe she needed money. Maybe she was scamming me. What do I care? Maybe the pygmy bull is really just still a baby and the devil’s child is actually real. What do I care?

There’s Truth that matters more than truth.


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~ by Cary on August 26, 2008.

One Response to “The Truth beyond the Truth”

  1. So beautiful, Cary. Imagine what you might create if you lived here!! In the meantime, I feel more grateful for this place because of your words. And I feel more grateful for the gift of amazing women (like you) who can communicate with such grace, beauty, and power.

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