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Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

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Writers Will Sometimes Give You the Quote off Their Back

January 3rd, 2019 by dk

I don’t know what to think or say or do about what happened to me the other night. But I know my experience is not uncommon, so I’m going to bring you along with me on my train of thought — even though I don’t know where it leads.

I heard that an outreach event for our less fortunate neighbors was occurring at a church a couple of miles from my home. My family’s holiday plans left me free for the evening, so I volunteered. I also decided I would walk to the church. Why not take a little extra time to reflect on the holiday spirit? Well, rain would be why not, but there wasn’t any, so I bundled up and walked.

The organizers greeted me warmly, but their feared shortage of volunteers had become a surplus. Dishwashers and cooks needed no help. I was given an easy task: to organize a table filled with shirts and sweaters and coats for men, free for the taking.

After folding and refolding shirts and sweaters for an hour, I wandered across the room to see if the dishwashing situation had changed. That’s when I noticed something about my coat, hung near a staff area across from the kitchen. My coat wasn’t there. I checked the floor and the area around it, but nothing resembling my puffy blue down jacket was anywhere around.

I went back to my clothing giveaway station, pausing at every patch of navy blue along the way. My coat, my hat, and my scarf were definitely gone.

I fibbed to the organizer and said something had come up. (I didn’t say something had gone away.) I asked if I could leave early, since help was plentiful. I also said I’d like to help again, not fibbing. I rushed because I knew my walk would get much colder after dark. I had a brisk time for reflection — though not as warmly as I had planned.

I wasn’t concerned about replacing the coat. The scarf was a souvenir from France, but nothing worth fretting over. My thoughts turned to deeper matters. I noticed myself checking pockets for my keys and my phone at least a dozen times, as if they could be taken from me as I walked.

My afternoon heart, filled with liberal charity, was now replaced with cold evening air and a reflex to conserve what I (still) had. Do sentiments always flow more swiftly downward? One small loss and my self-protection instincts were kicking in.

I can learn to store my coat in a safer place. Others may choose to stay home and write a check to the same charity. And others just stay home, doors locked, thinking the worst about other people. Is there any meaningful difference between these expressions of self-protection? Do they differ only by degree? (This is where Francis strips naked and walks into the woods, but there are no saints here.)

Replacing things is easy. Restoring trust is harder. I’m trying to find ways to make more connections with others from this experience, not fewer. You’re helping, and I appreciate it.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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