In the Old Testament story of Ruth and Naomi and their deep attachment to each other, the wealthy landlord Boaz is stricken at first sight of Ruth. So stricken that he had his people show her where to gather, told her to take more than what was allotted, told her she could not gather in anyone else’s field and fed her more lunch than she could eat.
One Monday morning, when Martha and I were visiting in Fort Worth, our son Mike invited me to go with him and his team to his “work.”
The team — Mike driving his Mini Cooper, and Jack, Ken, Jim and Ron with their pickups — gathered behind a huge Wal-Mart to collect excess fresh food and deliver it to a local food bank. The Ruth in this story now becomes the store’s operations manager, Gina, a woman who, with no uncertainty, told the gleaners what they could take and what they mustn’t touch.
The guys were of a kind: well-off suburbanites, early retirees from professional jobs including avionics expert, airline pilot, helicopter test pilot, owners of small businesses. Society had finished their careers for them while they were still vigorous enough to be useful. So they were being useful in original ways.
Rather dispassionately, they went about their work with thorough enjoyment — no bragging, no complaining about the heavy lifting, no mention of all the good they were doing, not even about all the food they were saving for hungry people, food that would otherwise end up in the store’s garbage bins already bulging with over-ripe fish.
This Wal-Mart was a typical big box store — very attractive front façade with large portals for entering to buy and wide exits through which to leave with more purchases than intended. The rear of the store where the guys loaded the left-over food was quite different — totally utilitarian, dull, boring, characterless. Like that Luke Short western where the cowboy hero finds himself at 2 a.m. stumbling around behind a great mansion, a spot described as “the inevitable backside of elegance.”
One whole pickup load was dented gallon plastic jugs of fresh water. In the other trucks were some dry stores and some condiments, but most was frozen food, still thoroughly frozen on arrival at the delivery site, a place called Mission Central. There, a guy named Eric guided unloading and storage arrangements. All parcels were weighed and the weight meticulously recorded.
The story of Ruth and Naomi must be the most beautiful, uplifting, romantic tale of all time. Ruth, daughter-in-law of Naomi, remains loyal to the older woman after their husbands have died and returns with Naomi to her home land.
There, Boaz sees her and eventually marries her and gives her a son. But who remembers poor Boaz, the great-grandfather of King David? Boaz, who made Ruth’s story possible?
And yet, some nano-portion of his legacy, and that of the dusty maiden who became his wife, has filtered down the millennia to infect, with blessing, our present-day mechanical, organized gleaning. This done through the hands of Mike, Jack, Ken, Jim, Ron, Gina, Eric and other multitudes of good folk, quietly bent, without fanfare, on making the world a better place.
— Wright lives
in Baton Rouge
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