Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ragman by Walt Wangerin, Jr.

[Written by Walt Wangerin, Jr, but I felt moved to share it.]

I saw a strange sight. I stumbled upon a story most strange, like nothing my life, my street sense, my sly tongue had ever prepared me for.
Hush, child. Hush, now, and I will tell it to you.
Even before the dawn one Friday morning I noticed a young man, handsome and strong, walking the alleys of our City. He was pulling an old cart filled with clothes both bright and new, and he was calling in a clear, tenor voice: "Rags!" Ah, the air was foul and the first light filthy to be crossed by such sweet music.
"Rags! New rags for old! I take your tired rags! Rags!"
"Now, this is a wonder," I thought to myself, for the man stood six-feet-four, and his arms were like tree limbs, hard and muscular, and his eyes flashed intelligence. Could he find no better job than this, to be a ragman in the inner city?
I followed him. My curiosity drove me. And I wasn't disappointed.
Soon the Ragman saw a woman sitting on her back porch. She was sobbing into a handkerchief, sighing, and shedding a thousand tears. Her knees and elbows made a sad X. Her shoulders shook. Her heart was breaking.
The Ragman stopped his cart. Quietly, he walked to the woman, stepping round tin cans, dead toys, and Pampers.
"Give me your rag," he said so gently, "and I'll give you another."
He slipped the handkerchief from her eyes. She looked up, and he laid across her palm a linen cloth so clean and new that it shined. She blinked from the gift to the giver.
Then, as he began to pull his cart again, the Ragman did a strange thing: he put her stained handkerchief to his own face; and then HE began to weep, to sob as grievously as she had done, his shoulders shaking. Yet she was left without a tear.
"This IS a wonder," I breathed to myself, and I followed the sobbing Ragman like a child who cannot turn away from mystery.
"Rags! Rags! New rags for old!"
In a little while, when the sky showed grey behind the rooftops and I could see the shredded curtains hanging out black windows, the Ragman came upon a girl whose head was wrapped in a bandage, whose eyes were empty. Blood soaked her bandage. A single line of blood ran down her cheek.
Now the tall Ragman looked upon this child with pity, and he drew a lovely yellow bonnet from his cart.
"Give me your rag," he said, tracing his own line on her cheek, "and I'll give you mine."
The child could only gaze at him while he loosened the bandage, removed it, and tied it to his own head. The bonnet he set on hers. And I gasped at what I saw: for with the bandage went the wound! Against his brow it ran a darker, more substantial blood - his own!
"Rags! Rags! I take old rags!" cried the sobbing, bleeding, strong, intelligent Ragman.
The sun hurt both the sky, now, and my eyes; the Ragman seemed more and more to hurry.
"Are you going to work?" he asked a man who leaned against a telephone pole. The man shook his head.
The Ragman pressed him: "Do you have a job?"
"Are you crazy?" sneered the other. He pulled away from the pole, revealing the right sleeve of his jacket - flat, the cuff stuffed into the pocket. He had no arm.
"So," said the Ragman. "Give me your jacket, and I'll give you mine."
Such quiet authority in his voice!
The one-armed man took off his jacket. So did the Ragman - and I trembled at what I saw: for the Ragman's arm stayed in its sleeve, and when the other put it on he had two good arms, thick as tree limbs; but the Ragman had only one.
"Go to work," he said.
After that he found a drunk, lying unconscious beneath an army blanket, and old man, hunched, wizened, and sick. He took that blanket and wrapped it round himself, but for the drunk he left new clothes.
And now I had to run to keep up with the Ragman. Though he was weeping uncontrollably, and bleeding freely at the forehead, pulling his cart with one arm, stumbling for drunkenness, falling again and again, exhausted, old, old, and sick, yet he went with terrible speed. On spider's legs he skittered through the alleys of the City, this mile and the next, until he came to its limits, and then he rushed beyond.
I wept to see the change in this man. I hurt to see his sorrow. And yet I needed to see where he was going in such haste, perhaps to know what drove him so.
The little old Ragman - he came to a landfill. He came to the garbage pits. And then I wanted to help him in what he did, but I hung back, hiding. He climbed a hill. With tormented labor he cleared a little space on that hill. Then he sighed. He lay down. He pillowed his head on a handkerchief and a jacket. He covered his bones with an army blanket. And he died.
Oh, how I cried to witness that death! I slumped in a junked car and wailed and mourned as one who has no hope - because I had come to love the Ragman. Every other face had faded in the wonder of this man, and I cherished him; but he died. I sobbed myself to sleep.
I did not know - how could I know? - that I slept through Friday night and Saturday and its night, too.
But then, on Sunday morning, I was wakened by a violence.
Light - pure, hard, demanding light - slammed against my sour face, and I blinked, and I looked, and I saw the last and the first wonder of all. There was the Ragman, folding the blanket most carefully, a scar on his forehead, but alive! And, besides that, healthy! There was no sign of sorrow nor of age, and all the rags that he had gathered shined for cleanliness.
Well, then I lowered my head and trembling for all that I had seen, I myself walked up to the Ragman. I told him my name with shame, for I was a sorry figure next to him. Then I took off all my clothes in that place, and I said to him with dear yearning in my voice: "Dress me."
He dressed me. My Lord, he put new rags on me, and I am a wonder beside him. The Ragman, the Ragman, the Christ!

Monday, April 5, 2010


Perhaps you have heard the phrase, "If you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated." As a former soccer player, hydration was very important. It was necessary to drink sufficient water every day and especially the 24 hours before a game to prevent dehydration during the competition, for it was difficult to replenish fluids quickly enough while running around for two hours. The more hydrated I was, the more apt I was to play at peak performance; the less hydrated I was, the more likely I was to become fatigued, ineffective, and perhaps even have my muscles cramp up.
Even now, although I am not playing sports at the same intensity every day, I can see the importance of drinking enough water (the same could be said for getting enough sleep). I find the more water I drink - especially in place of coffee, soda, beer, etc - the better I feel, the more sound I sleep, the more energy I have, the easier it is to fend off colds, etc. And the better I feel, the healthier I am, and the more energy I have leads to being more productive at home/work, easier exercise, and generally enjoying life more. (Now, I'm not saying that drinking water leads to happiness like some magical fountain, but I am saying it is one of many factors that I have noticed that makes a difference in my quality of life.)

Now that I know this and have experienced this correlation, I have been able to be more intentional about how much water I drink. Most of us have heard that people are supposed to drink a doctor-recommended minimum of 64 ounces of water each day. (That's eight 8-ounce glasses, or more than the equivalent of 5 cans of soda.) Its one thing to know how much to drink; its another to be intentional enough to actually drink that much. Every day. And more on the days that require it. Every week. Every month. Every year. For the rest of your life.

Sounds like a lot of work - a lot of being intentional. But if that's what it takes to be healthy - which can help lead to happiness - isn't it worth a little effort on the front end and a little effort each day, one day at a time? Isn't it worth it to avoid thirst at the very minimum? Fatigue? Weakness? Sickness? I know this is extreme, but what if we never drank at all? We would die... eventually.

And so it is with communication and relationships.

Water is to our bodies, as communication is to our relationships. Instead of thirst, fatigue, and illness, without proper or adequate communication we can experience misunderstandings, frustration, and loneliness as symptoms that appear.

Like our bodies, our relationships require a certain level of communication to maintain themselves. Each relationship we are in requires a different level (quality, depth and quantity) of communication. My relationship with my spouse requires much more and much better communication that my relationship with my mail carrier. Some days communication comes naturally and easily because we're around each other and nothing is going on to distract us. Other days/weeks, communication is more difficult because of work, kids, other responsibilities, etc. Being intentional about communicating is so important because otherwise life will get in the way. I would say this is true for ALL relationships, not just for people living in the same house.

If you're not communicating well with your employees, co-workers, or superiors, how effective would you be as a company if you didn't know what/how each other was doing?

If you're not communicating well with friends, are they going to feel as connected and feel those positive feelings that made them want to be friends with you in the first place?

If you're dog didn't communicate with you, would you know when to let him outside or would you be cleaning up messes?

Again, my recommendation - for whatever its worth - is to be intentional about your communication with others. Set aside time on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. Make a covenant with yourself to make communication a priority. If you are not a communicative person, and you are living with a spouse/partner, then use helpful tools like "3 things that happened today and how you felt about them" or describing how each of your five senses were stimulated that day or buy a book or questions (even "would you rather" books). Plan date night for the first Monday of every month. Read a chapter from a book each night and discuss. Even with non-partners, set aside time to call, text, email, write, meet with, or talk to those people.

I'm just sayin...

...be intentional about communication - get your daily allotment in - before your relationships get thirsty.