During my weekly jaunt to the grocery store, I was standing outside looking at all the fresh produce. Veggies and fruits arranged in slanted baskets with brilliant colors of red apples, yellow grapefruits, green peppers, orange…..oranges. A sight for the eyes. It kind of makes you feel all warm and fuzzy.
Picking through the star fruit and kiwi’s (I’m making fruit salsa today) I hear a voice from behind me. The words are slurred and full of saliva. “R’s” are pronounced “W”, and “S’s” are “Th’s”. It’s the voice of a mentally handicapped man. He’s every bit of forty years old. (my age) His left arm curled to his chest, hand clenched around what appears to be one of those Beenie Babies.
“Hello, a-aa-Apple Man.” He says to me while wiping his chin with the back of his hand. “You lookin’ for apples?”
“Yes, and some other fruit.” I responded. “What are you going to get.”
“I’m going to b-bb-buy a sucker. Cherry. They have the b-bb–best cherry suckers in the whoooole world!” the handicapped man-child says with excitement.
“They DO?” I say, “Well, I’ll have to buy one and try it.”
“Y-yy-you s-ss-should….they cost 205 dollars! Mom gives me the money.”
“Awesome!” I exclaim. “Where’s your mom now?”
“S-ss-she had a t-tt-tumor on her head and died.”
At this point, I realize that this man-child is a ward of the state. Too “young in the mind” to hold a job or live on his own without assistance. This simple minded man is alone. He is most definitely frustrated. And I feel like in a way, we are one. I think about this in a brief moment of silence. Man-child notices.
“W-ww-watcha thinking about, Apple Man?”
“I like you.” I tell him in an attempt to help him feel ‘normal’ (how many of us are actually ‘normal’?) what are you doing after you buy the sucker?”
“G-gg-gonna go walk to Scoreboards and water the flowers. They give me ONE DOLLAR for every pot!” Man-boy announces with the pride of someone with a high paying job.
“A dollar, huh? That’s good money if you ask me. Listen, I want you to help me pick out some fruit. Can you do that?’
“S-ss-sure, Apple Man. I can do that. But it’ll cost you a d-dd-dollar.”
This man-boy is fucking smarter than I thought. “I’ll tell you what. You pick me out a coupe of really red apples, one green one, and a pear and I’ll give you FIVE dollars.”
“FIVE DOLLARS?!?!? You must be a d-dd-doctor!”
His saying this as though I had some sort of high profile employment reminded me of my own children when they would look under the grass of their Easter baskets to find the money the bunny left them (An old tradition of ours) Back then a QUARTER was treasure. With a quarter, my children thought they could buy anything their grubby little hands could point at.
“No,” I say. “I’m a carpenter.”
“L-ll-like Jesus!” he observes.
(He doesn’t realize the irony in this assessment.) “Yeah, like Jesus.” I affirm.
I hand Man-Boy a couple of bags and tell him to make sure the red apples go into one bag and the green in another. He asks me what to do with the pear, and I tell him to get it last and that we didn’t need a bag. He hands me his Beenie Baby and walks over to the racks of fruit.
One by one, Man-Boy picks up an apple, carefully examines it, smells it. He turns it left. Right. Upside down. Man-Boy holds it up to me for approval and I nod. “That’s a FINE apple. We’ll take it.” Gleefully, he places it in the bag and grabs another, examining it, smelling it, etc. Each piece of fruit he selects, he holds sup for me to give a nod. A few have obvious bruises on them and are rejected.
“It’s ok, little apple, someone hungrier than Apple Man will buy you.” he says as he delicately places the bruised apple at the top of the slanted basket so someone (in his mind) would be sure to select it first. Even an inanimate object holds some sort of importance to him. Maybe he’s just smart enough to know what rejection really means.
After all of our fruit is picked. (I ended up letting him select the rest of the ingredients–pineapple, mango, strawberries, a lime, a jalepeno pepper and a few stalks of cilantro) I ask him if he wants to push my cart into the store so I could pay. This seems to make him feel very important, and again I am reminded how my children used to fight over who could push the cart in the grocery store.
At the register, Man-Boy places each bag of fruit onto the belt with the care of a surgeon. Each item is weighed, and my total comes to around $20 or so. I can see the display where the best cherry suckers are and I tell Man-Boy I’d gladly pay for his sucker.
“Thanks, Apple Man.” He says.
I think about how his life must have been. I think about how his mother was probably his only care-giver up until she died from that damn tumor “on her head.” I wonder how he manages to go on from day to day. But I realize, he doesn’t know any better. To him, relying on the kindness of others and the care of probably some sort of nurse is just a part of everyday life. I wonder what it must be like to merely EXIST.
I realize that this simple man’s face brightens every time he smiles. Even with his crooked teeth that are a result of his swollen tongue. The Man-Boy is full of light. He doesn’t “merely EXIST.” the Man-Boy LIVES. He inspires. (Otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this blog)
I tell him to meet me outside, and that I’ll give him another dollar if he loads the bags into my truck. As soon as I see he has left the building to wait for me, I grab EVERY FUCKING CHERRY SUCKER that the store had and buy them. I tell the cashier to please place them in a separate bag. At least thirty of them. All the sticks poking through the plastic bag and it looks like some sort of giant Jack.
Outside, Man-Boy waits by my truck, and when I push the cart to him, he immediately loads each bag into the be of my pick-up.
When he finishes, I hand him five dollars and say “Thank you.”
Man-Boy is no idiot. He holds out his hand and says, “You o-oo-owe me another dollar for l-ll-loading your truck.”
Fucker is a businessman. I hand him the extra dollar I promised, and say, “Hey, you forgot about your sucker.”
He holds out his hand and I place the handles around his outstretched wrist.
“THANKS APPLE MAN!!!” He shouts and runs away like he just robbed a bank.
And off he went to where ever Man-Boys live and I’m pretty sure, that at this minute, he’s sitting on the floor counting and recounting his cherry suckers. The “b-bb-best” fucking Cherry suckers in the whole world.
What does this little story have to do with “why I am an Atheist?” When I was growing up in a Catholic home, we were told repeatedly that in order to ensure our place in Heaven, we had to do good because “God is watching.” After my father died, I began to question everything. The “Doing good because God is watching” was what stood out to me the most. WHY should I only do good because I am constantly being judged? I should be good for goodness’ sake.
If the God I was raised to believe in was all-loving, why do we suffer? Why do the helpless lose someone close to something as horrible as a brain tumor?
If I pray for something and it is not received, then why did Jesus say, “You have not because you ask not?”
If God GAVE us free will and expects us to use it, why would I be condemned to hell for not believing in him? (He would understand that I “freely” used his gift to come up with my own conclusions.) These were the thoughts of a child. In adulthood, once I actually began to enjoy reading, the lack of anything concrete in evidence of a deity and the science backing reality, pushed me further and further away from the desert god of my father. It’s not just the science behind reality, it’s the lack of anything outside that science that guides MY “free will” to be a better person for myself, my children, and perfect strangers I meet along my life’s path.
To “be good for God” has no meaning for me. I am good because I am a Human being who knows how to BE Human.