I met John Irving's writing in Mali, West Africa. My reading buddy Joanne had a wonderful library and a beautiful heart and became my literary oasis in our saharan desert country.
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One day she handed me a ragged copy of A Prayer for Owen Meany and said, "There aren't many missionaries I'd recommend this to, but I think you'll like it."
She was right! I became a fan of all works Irving.
Irving helps me find the “real” in the “ridiculous,” “meaning” in the “meaningless,” and “hope” in the “hopeless.” His stories remind me of times I lived at the Jeff Street Baptist Center across the street from the Clarksdale Housing Projects in Louisville, Kentucky.
One morning, I walked out the front doors of the center and turned down Jefferson Street toward the Ohio River. There, huddled in a circle beside the wall of our building, was a group of worn, ragged homeless men. I knelt down with them and said, "Hello."
One of the men smiled a toothless smile at me, reached into his coat, pulled out a bottle of Wild Irish Rose, took a swig, and passed it to me. "Here," he said. "Have a drink."
It was truly a John Irving moment. Here I was offering my alcoholic friend a “hello” and he offering his ministerial friend a drink. He was offering me the thing that was most important to him.
Do I offer the things that are most important to me to others, especially to the smallest and most forgotten people in the world?
I didn't drink from that bottle of Wild Irish Rose on that day, but I am still drinking deeply from that moment in my life today.
What would it mean to the world if this year — and well into the future — we passed it a bottle of Wild Irish Rose, if we gave it the things that mean most to us? Let's try it!
Trevor Scott Barton is an elementary school teacher in Greenville, S.C. He is a blogger for the Teaching Tolerance project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
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