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The Least of These

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Bless you.

An uttered prayer for a lineup of unfortunates who face their own inadequacies in this, our lives. And, no, I am hardly unmindful of my inadequacies covering the same period. I can only hope that I am being blessed by idle strangers even as we speak.

And, now, to my blessings.

Bless the aged rider who wobbles the handlebars in the narrow sheath between cars parked and cars moving, gently and timidly rolling through the night, pushed on only by an old man's courage.

Bless the old lady who liked to play video poker while waiting for her take-out at the Chinese restaurant and who got drunk one day and fell down in the parking lot, and all the styrofoam containers popped open and all the stuff got jumbled up. A kindly stranger helped her up and drove her home. And that was the last straw for the old lady's married daughter, who sold her mama's house and car and bought her a trailer on a lot in the middle of nowhere. She does have a satellite dish, though.

Bless David Ullery, catcher for the Omaha Royals. On a couple of Zephyr steals, his throws have been quick but short. Royals up 5-4, pitch tight on the knuckles. The ball nicks the bat, but not much, not enough to slow it down; it careens into his left-side ribs and the fleshy part of the glove-hand forearm. For Ullery, there is the slow hang of the head, the look at the arm, the shake of the head, the shake of tahe arm and then back to work. The crowd is sparse and doesn't seem to notice someone playing baseball the way it was meant to be played.

Bless the friend whose lesion has not reached the brain and who knows me not now, only looks into my eyes with a look of sweet, irritated confusion and then speaks. There are only a few words at a time before the slight pause and the slide into more meaningless palaver, words softly flung into talk that won't count for anything. And then he leans back, tired of it all, slumped into his mute body and listening only to the logic of unheard arguments because, after all, what else is left to say?

Bless the retired man who goes every day to the Winn-Dixie and hangs around talking to the uniformed security guard all day, trying to find ways to bring a smile to the guard's tight-lipped face.

Bless the house where I live, that keeps me warm and dry (or cool and dry), and when I am so, I lay and listen for the night-breath of the house, the creaking and cracking of the walls and floors and ceilings in the dark, the inhalations and exhalations as we grow old together.

Bless the older lady who comes in the evening in a plain white car to the corner of Bonnabel and West Esplanade. She gets out of the car, flowered muslin swirling in the 6 o'clock sky and opens the trunk. She brings out a large, white sack and starts sprinkling seed feed, and all around cluster ducks and geese who come padding up from the edges of the canal, plus a squirrel or two. All around press Montereys and Xterras, full of squinting people heading for suburban suppers. Time to eat, everyone.

Bless the guy in the lakefront high-rise, who was killed by his girlfriend, who then turned the gun on herself. It was the day his son was to be married, and the girlfriend showed up dressed for the wedding. Many have been caught between one life and the next; he forbade the girlfriend from the wedding. He died in a tuxedo.

Bless all the old men who wait between the signs marked "Rheumatology" and "Hepatology" at the clinic. They come wearing T-shirted wisdom ("Will Work for Beer") and flaunting ball-cap loyalties ("Jesus.") Many sport tattoos of the old school, their youthful defiance fading to absurdity. The most flamboyant has a ring for every finger on each hand, so above the waist he looks like a silver god. But below the waist, you notice what's left of his left foot fits into an orthopedic boot the size of a child's. The old men come and go from here with some trouble. Many carry canes, seeking out a safe place to step. Steps are made in unstrung sneakers, pillow-soled loafers, cut-off oxfords. Shoulders back, feet lifted straight up and down. Shoulders forward and down, feet skittering like a crab's. Shoulders sagging like a coat hurriedly thrown on a hanger, unmatched feet, one following the other like an afterthought.

Bless them all, fighting every day the handicaps that go with staying in the race and knowing more than most that you usually make the last jumps alone. Bless them all, the long and the short and the tall. So cheer up, my lads; bless them all.

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