January 17, 2019

My very unusual Sunday morning today

By John Guy LaPlante

I’m in warm and sunny Costa Mesa, California. And the morning has been gorgeous!

We sprang forward one hour last night. I love that.

As usual, I  spent  a fine night, and enjoyed my  fine usual   breakfast of oatmeal and fruit and black tea, yes, in  my comfy one-person camping van.

And decided to go to a church service.

I am not a church-goer. Do not belong to a church. But it was the first Sunday in Lent, and that still means something to me after all these years.  And I felt a need. It was that simple. I put on better clothes and headed out.

Last year here, I went to a service at the tiny Christian Community Church nearby. I enjoyed it.  I decided to go back.

I arrived just in time for the 10 a.m. service.

It’s a lovely small church of traditional design on a beautiful corner. Thirty or so cars were in the lot.  Expensive ones and cheap ones. Two men and a lay sporting prominent name tags welcomed me at the front door. Such warm smiles!

“Welome, sir!  Welcome!” I felt they meant it.

It was, I repeat,  a small church and with a small attendance, sad to say. Maybe only 35 or so. It could seat four times that many. I noticed four or five women to every man.  And just three or four traditional  couples. So, quite unusual. Half a dozen approached me, welcomed me, inquired about me.  All wonderful. One of the things I needed, I guess.

Beautiful, joyous music, by a choir of six or seven, plus a piano, a guitar, and drums. They were terrific. We sang along. I didn’t. That’s a talent I sadly lack.

The hymns they were happily singing were projected onto a big screen up front. Every seat had a thick hymnal, but unnecessary these days.

I loved the melodies and the rhythms. I tried to make real sense of the words, but as usual, couldn’t.  Oh, well.

People were well dressed, I liked that.  Some were dressed conventionally.  A few had wilder outfits.  Some men had conventional haircuts like mine. Two or three had long pony nails, but neat.

The church calls itself  “Vibrant, Open, and Loving,.”  Prints those lovely words on its program. Practices them. I remembered all that from last year.  That was one reason I was back.

That, by the way, means that it is open also to the LGBT community. I didn’t know what that meant.  Well, it stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender folks. My goodness! But I’m a liberal in most ways, and that sounded good to me.

I looked around to see who I could spot as L, G, B, or T. I couldn’t tell though I hazarded a guess or two.

Dr. Sarah Halverson was the speaker.  She’s the minister—seven years now.  About 35,  maybe touching 40.  She was another reason I was back.  She radiates faith, and community, and openness, and acceptance with Jesus as the ideal. She’s a wonderful person. They’re lucky to have her.

And she speaks with such sincerity, and charm, and warmth.  Plus such learning and wisdom.

Then followed the fellowship hour, out on the patio in the golden sunshine. Shirtsleeves weather! That’s why I’m in Southern California! Coffee and nice goodies. I got to have a nice chat with Dr. Halverson, and somehow she remembered me from last year.

She pointed me to a slim, white-haired  lady in her  upper 60’s, but I’m guessing about that.  Lina, I believe, but I may be mistaken, and I found her so delightful that I’d be profoundly embarrassed because she made such a good impression on me that her name should have remained crystal-clear for me.

As they say, old age isn’t for sissies.

Dr. Halverson—everybody else calls her Sarah—sent me to Lina because she had served in the Peace Corps, too. As an older Volunteer, like me. In Thailand.   She she told me she was a Ph. D. and had had career as a professor of education “I taught aspiring teachers how to teach,” she told me. So, extremely important work. Told she had enjoyed her Peace Corps. We got to talk about a lot of things, some significant. She was another highlight of my morning.

I also got to talk to others.  I met a man, about 60, with a pony tail. And our talking somehow led him to open up to me.  He told me a terrible hard-luck story.

But I liked him.  And was able to make some helpful suggestions, and he seemed to consider them helpful.  I left him thinking our talk had been a win-win situation. We both got something good out of it.

In fact, I felt good, good, good about my whole experience at that lovely small  church. And went on my way.


My fuel tank was getting very low.  I pulled into a Shell station, stuck my Visa card into the machine, punched in my Deep River zip—and it didn’t work. Tried again. Failure. Tried again.  Failure.  Walked into the store.  The counter man swiped my card.  It worked. How come?

By the way, I bought $75 worth. The price was $4.01 per gallon.  So, a bit more than 19 gallons. That didn’t come close to filling my tank.

Anyway, a woman had walked in.  In her 40s, neat but with soiled clothes, a scruffy big lady’s handbag in one hand, and a big, big plastic bag crammed with stuff in the other. Homeless for sure, I thought.

She had a couple of dollars in her hand and walked to a display of peanuts and chips.  And looked at the cashier, rather uncertainly.

“No, no, no!,”  He said it sternly, wagging a big finger at her.

I was shocked.  And hey, I was here fresh from a marvelously inspiring  talk about acceptance and openness.   “She wants food!” I said to him indignantly.  “What’s wrong?”

“No.  She wants alcohol.  We know her.”

Anyway she walked out. So did I.

Outside she was waiting for me.  She had three $1 bills in hand. I was sure she had darn little money.

She said something to me and offered me her money.  She was a minority person, and I didn’t understand her English. Besides, I have a hearing problem.

I said, “What kind of food do you want?”

“Beer!” she said.  “Beer!”

In a flash I shot back, “I’m sorry.  I cannot do that!”

She looked so, so crestfallen. So pitiful.  She turned, picked up the big plastic bag she had put down, and trudged away.

I felt awful.

If I had really accepted that heartfelt message of Dr. Halverson’s—be open to others, try to do good to all,  be helpful in practical ways—maybe I should have said, “Yes.” Gone inside with her money, made the purchase, given her the beer, and said, “God  bless you and have a nice day!”

Sure, I would have been encouraging her in her habit.  But hey, I would have been consoling her in a way that seemed so, so essential to her at that very instant.

Did I do right?  Or did I do wrong?

Those two questions are stuck in my mind.

What do you think?


The rest of my day has been wonderful.

I am so lucky in so many ways.

How come I’m so lucky?  And that poor woman so unlucky?

I have no explanation that satisfies me, unfortunately.

“Dr. Halverson, help! Please! Please!”

~ ~ ~


  1. Connie Fusco says:

    You did the right thing not buying her beer. However, maybe saying you would be happy to buy her food instead. It is sad that no matter how much you want to help someone, they cannot and/or will not accept the right kind of help. Connie

  2. Nancy Simonds says:

    Hi John,

    It’s difficiult to know what to do. The few times I’ve been in that position, a couple of times I simply went to the closest grocery store, bought food, and took it back to the person in need. I agree with Connie that beer definitely wasn’t the answer. As much as I dislike saying it, life isn’t fair. One example: Look at our home veterans who go to war to keep us from harm and when they come back with sometimes many disparities, we kick them into the woods and they end up without food, shelter, family, and more. I find that unconscionable. Anyway, that’s another subject. You and I have issues, but we are fortunate enough to handle them.

    On another note, in the March issue of “The Rotarian” there’s a wonderful article on Route 66. If you haven’t read it, let me know and I’ll save it for you. I’m positive you’ve been to many of the sites mentioned in the piece.

    Be well, stay safe and I’m happy you recognize your blessings,
    ~ Nancy

  3. Addiction comes at us from different layer of severity. Only three percent of alcoholics are dysfunctional like the woman you met the other 97% are functional on a daily basis. At that stage recovery needs to be assisted from the outside since the person involved is incapable of seeing past the need to ease their pain for the addictive substance. Addiction is not a need it is a drive. That woman had to tend to an internal drive before she could return to a somewhat normal way of life.

    In this case you were dealing with the addiction not the person. Seeing this sort of enslavement in its rawest form is always overwhelming to those who have never been there. We never know what to do at the moment. Not giving that woman what her body absolutely needed is not a helpful gesture. The human caring that we would rather give her can only come after the internal trauma has been quieted. She did not WANT a drink, she NEEDED a drink.

    If I were to decide what to do at the moment and had the right disposition and the free time what I hope I would do is get her the drinks she needs to bring the body back to functioning and spend some time in companionship with her at a local restaurant – without preaching. From past experiences I know I would get as much out of this serendipitous event as the other person.

    What is missing in her life is a feeling of normalcy. Her world is filled with dirty looks and indifference. What she never gets is a sense of belonging. I know I could not give her that in an hour but I can remind her of better times in her life. It may take may of us to do this for her before the notion takes hold but what else can we do at the moment? That woman is a normal person in deep trouble.

  4. Lucie Fradet says:

    You did the right thing. I,too count my blessings.

  5. Joan Perrone says:

    Hi John,

    I found you in my spam folder. Hope I didn’t miss any more of your blogs.

    I believe you did the right thing…otherwise you would be an enabler. She needs help, but the kind neither you nor I are experienced enough to provide. It is a shame though.

    Frank and I have offered to buy food for people who say that they are hungry; but they won’t accept the food. They want money….to buy drugs or liquor, I suppose. It’s a sad state of affairs; and a problem too big for us to handle.

    I’m glad that you had a wonderful experience at the church. Sometimes we need to do something to lift our spirits. It could be going to church, walking in the park, doing a charitable work, etc.

    Frank and I had the flu and are finally feeling better. I am working the with the youth ministry at a church in Avon, directing them in a musical Passion Play to be put on March 29th. Still have lots of snow on the ground….can’t wait till spring.

    I think of you when I see the news about Ukraine. It’s a good thing that you are not there now!! I’ll be it makes you sad, though, to know that they are going through such hard times.

    Take care.


  6. Ken Mattingly says:


    Trust me as a professional working in a local Kentucky drug court, you were correct in refusing to purchase the lady the alcohol. Do not in any way think you did her a disservice. Enabling addicts leads to destruction. As alcoholics state, one drink is too many and 100 is not enough. From the reaction of the person you describe in the story to her attempting to purchase alcohol, he knew from experience why she did not need the beer.

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