The pile of dishes rises higher. One after another they come in. A mountain of cheap plastic and stainless utensils that slips into the basin in front of Chelsea. She takes a deep breath, keeps a stiff upper lip and dives in. This is what she is here for, in this claustrophobic basement kitchen of her neighborhood church, to help however she can. There is a nagging uncertainty, though, and she does not want to give it voice, because that would require taking a long hard look at herself.
When she signed up to volunteer the morning shift at the soup kitchen, and oh how early those mornings are, she thought it would be all smiles and thank yous and the spirit lifting experience of knowing hungry people could make it through another day due to your efforts. She was so convinced she would feel the holy spirit. What she has found instead is drudgery, rushing about, short tempers all dancing to the score sung by the indigent, the angry, and the broken. What little interaction she has with the people they are helping has involved none of the grace she thought it would.
No, her time up front was staggering backward as fights were quietly handled. It was feeling powerless as she looked into the eyes of the real thing. Chelsea only lasted a few minutes in the dining room before the director kindly took her aside and suggested she was maybe not ready, telling her the guests needed dignity, not pity and that her mood would affect theirs and vice versa. The woman was very nice about it, no judgement in her voice or eyes, yet Chelsea could not help but feel judged.
So she finishes out the shift at the dishwasher, spraying out plates and throwing them through the dishwasher, and carefully putting them away. One after another. Bit by bit. If she ever thinks about the fact that there are people who live doing this far more than an hour and a half she never says so. She bites down her bitterness and is at least grateful she is not scrubbing pots and pans. She thanks the Almighty that she is not like the people they are helping. Her shift done she throws the apron in the basket and smiles as the director thanks her and shares her hope that she will see Chelsea tomorrow. There is doubt in her voice and in Chelsea’s heart and as she reaches her car Chelsea watches a young mother put two crying babies in a stroller as a third child waves at the woman who stayed in back. Chelsea holds her shame in her hand, and does not know what to do with it.