Blessed Are the Poor–The Cardboard Cage

     Utter desperation does not bring out the worst in people; it brings out what they are inside.  Good or bad.  You’ll have looters and rioters during disasters revealing their dark thieving hearts.  But others will suffer their plights with an astounding amount of integrity.  I know this first hand.

     It was 1973, and my wife Linda and I were down in Northern Mexico in the Sierra Madre Mountains near the town of Galeana.  We were traveling by van on a deserted dusty road, trying to find a village in the mountains.  We had heard there was a famine up in those parts, and we wanted to help.

     In the back of our old Chevy van we had commodities—several sacks of dry beans, rice and corn—foodstuffs we were going to deliver to the needy.  We had been driving all day on rock roads; it was getting late, and we still could not find the village.  We were lost with no idea where the village was.

       All of a sudden, we came to a dead end; big boulders were blocking the way.  “Guess I’ll back up here and turn around,” I said to Linda. And as I turned around to look out of my side window, a man appeared.  It was as if he had just materialized out of nowhere.  He was the light brown color of the rocks and dust.  His face was wan and gaunt, and he had a look in his countenance that was past sincere; it was desperate. 

     I looked back at Linda as if to ask, “What do I do now?”  And her look back said, “Don’t look at me.”  I looked back at him and noticed that more people had materialized.  A dozen people stood just behind him now.  Before I could ask him in Spanish what he wanted, he held up a small cardboard box about the size of a cracker box.

       He looked me straight in the eyes and moaned in a mournful cry, “Pan! Pan! Pan!”  And each time he said that word, he would push the box a little closer to me.  I turned to Linda and said, “Oh, my God, Linda.  He’s saying “bread.” 

     I looked at the box; it was alive.  From within, it hummed and fluttered and scratched.  And then I saw the slits in the side of the box and realized that he held a bird in a cardboard cage, and he was wanting to trade it for bread!

       We immediately got out of the van.  We now knew why we had made the wrong turn onto this desolate dead end road.  We knew clearly for whom the food was meant.  We walked around the van, opened the back doors and invited them to it.  As the man’s companions carried the food away, he held up the bird in the box, sincerely wanting me to take the bird, thus completing the trade.  I looked at him and told him that I couldn’t do it.  He then turned and walked on up the mountain to join his friends.         Kenneth Wayne Hancock

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