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I’ve learned a lot about foreign places without ever actually going there. We all see the television documentaries and might say, “Oh, Scotland is beautiful. I’d love to see it someday.” For me, at least, this isn’t likely to happen because i refuse to get on a plane. Yes, I know, but I can’t help it. So, for me, the beauty, the squalor, the fierceness of the climate, and the nature of the inhabitants all comes second-hand.

On occasion, i get a more personal glimpse of other places. For instance, I have a friend who came originally from Mexico. She’s been here for many years, and is a proud US citizen, but she still has ties to her growing-up neighborhood. I don’t know exactly where it is, but I know the people are poor and lack access to many of the amenities I take for granted. My friend N is a caring soul; she never forgets.

One day quite a few years ago, N mentioned that she and her brother were taking a truck to Mexico to deliver a load of used clothing and kitchen utensils. I blithely offered to add a few things I no longer wanted. When she came by to pick them up, I was surprised at the fervor of her thanks. Why would anyone be moved almost to tears by a bag of old t-shirts and outgrown pants?

I told N I was embarrassed to be giving her one shirt with a small stain on the sleeve.

“it still has a lot of wear in it, though, so maybe someone can use it in the garden or something,” I told her.

Her eyes wide, she countered by saying the shirt would be a prized possession. I didn’t understand why she could believe that.

“The people there have nothing,” she said. “If we take them a shirt that has all the buttons still attached, with no tears, that shirt gets saved to wear to church. For every day they wear anything to keep them covered and warm.”

“Do you really want me to give you clothes that are this bad?” I pulled a pair of sweat pants from the trash, things I had worn to paint the bathroom.

“You don’t understand. These pants are wonderful! They stretch, so all the ladies in the family will be able to wear them. Besides, they have needles and thread. They can make a design on top of the paint and the pants will be bee-u-ti-full They will be so happy.”

I shrugged, and said, “OK then, let me see what else I have.”

My friend stayed for an hour while I sorted through the rag bag. When we finished, the rag bag was empty and the trunk of her car was filled. N hugged me and thanked me again and again for what I had essentially considerred junk.

“They will use every piece of this. If the clothes get too soiled and torn, they will be cleaning rags. When they get too torn even for that, the people will stuff them in cases to make sleeping mattresses. Many of the people don’t read, and none of them can speak English, so they won’t write to thank you. But they will thank you every day in their prayers, because you are an angel to them.”

I’d never been an angel before.

These days I throw a lot less in the trash. No clothes get discarded unless I ask N first if she can find a use for them. When I find that I’ve somehow accumulated six baking pans of the same size, I clear the cupboard and send most of them to wait for the next trip to Mexico. N’s brother goes there every few months. It’s a long and uncomfortable trip, but the rewards are great.

The people who are likely to read this are at least basically literate and have access to computers. Probably not many of you worry about having enough food to go around when your family sits down to dinner or wonder if the next truck will bring enough rags to make the five-year-old a soft place to sleep. But don’t kid yourself; the poor are with us in every part of the world.

I know I’ll write a story about Mexico some day. I might even manage to drive there and see for myself the great cities and the tiny rural villages. One way or another, I’ll find out a bit about the places I don’t know and the things I don’t know. Just as here in the US, the people are varied and wonderful, and I’d love to know more about them.

In the meantime, I’ll try to be truly thankful that I can eat what I want, wear what I want, and sleep on a real mattress. And yes, I’ll do my best to be a good angel.

I’ll see you again, after the commercial.

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