Wednesday, April 6, 2011
I remember the first time I wore my corduroy shirt. Now it's faded and one side has taken on a bleach-y orange hue. It's "hobo-chic" as the fruitcakes would say but I'm sure somewhere would try to sell me the same thing for three figures. But back then, it was crisp and clean, straight out of the LL Bean catalog. It was approaching the holidays and my mother bought my brother and I the same shirt, only different colors. I had a lot of red shirts, I have a dark complexion, and my brother usually wore green or blue, he has a light. My mother was a bit obsessive about things like that. I don't remember why, but we switched it up when we got those shirts. I took the green corduroy shirt and my brother took the red corduroy shirt. I was probably about 10 years old.
The first time we wore those shirts was to a Christmas party. It happened to be a Mennonite Christmas party. I'm Presbyterian but my family knows a number of the Mennonite families as we homeschooled at that period in time. My mother was a homeschool "organizer", you could say. The Mennonites that my family know run a boy's camp. It is a camp for troubled boys who act violently towards their parents and peers and are no longer able to be in their local schools. It is a last resort before kids got shipped off to a detention center. I always imagine the Mennonites talking to struggling parents, "We understand. We know that institutionalizing these boys probably won't work. Let us give them a little love and a little responsibility and see what happens." There the boys go out into the woods and live in tents with Mennonite conselours. They live in the woods for a number of weeks in hope that the new responsibilites they acquired will shape them into well-behaved young men. Some boys do better and some don't. The Mennonites do not make a lot money, and what they do earn goes to support their families and the boys camp. Selfless doesn't really seem to describe the Mennonites. Recently, in order to help support the camp, the church opened a ice cream parlor. All the girls who work there volunteer their time and all the profits go to the boys camp. All the Mennonites who volunteer their time to the boys camp aren't hoping to add the hours to their college application, they're hoping to better other people's lives.
Before we headed up to the lodge, my parents explained how the boys camp worked to me, my brothers, and my sister. I don't remember much from the party. The food was good and the lodge had a big fire. After dinner I remember playing tag outside in the cold and dark. I think it was that night that I realized that Mennonites weren't different than us because they always tucked their shirts in and the women always wore skirts and caps. Mennonites are different than us because they are genuinely good and kind people. They don't count your faults, they don't judge you for your political views, and they don't judge you for the world that you participate in. They're not out to evangelize every Joe Schmo, they're out to make the world a better place, regardless of the world's religion.
I hope that there's a heaven. Not for myself. I'm probably too materialist to make the cut anyway. When I die, I'm fine with just turning off like a TV. Ceasing to exist doesn't seem like a bad thing. I haven't done anything special to deserve anything else. I hope that there's a heaven for the Mennonites. I hope that when they reach it that someone is there waiting to shake their hand and say, "Thank you. Thank you for caring about human beings. Thank you for caring about me."
And that was the first time I wore my corduroy shirt.