The Conscientious Enabler

The winter chill was coming on; a double-edged sword. The disadvantaged people Duncan cared for no longer needed bottles of water and designated cold zones. They would soon need free coats and places in which they could hide from the unforgiving cold.

The packed city square made for a bustling scene. Free-spirited people played guitar along with the pulsating drum circle. Others danced and swayed. Still others were happy just to listen. Best of all, Duncan’s message of fraternity was spreading to those buzzing about the nearby stores and restaurants. He loved knowing that in between their trips to kitschy shops and small, sparsely stocked boutiques, these privileged would be touched by the altruism he wrought this beautiful evening.

The rustling of fallen leaves brought another gift: the young man standing at his table, deliberating over his wares. The young man was eighteen, the age Duncan had been when he began his real education. He had that same look in his eyes, the unfocused intensity of naïve youth. “Is everything really free?” The young man asked.

“Absolutely,” Duncan said. He proudly waved his hand around the city square, perimetered with others doing the same thing. “Consumerism is a big problem. One way to separate our needs from our wants is to give everything away.”

The young man put the alarm clock back on the table. “It’s just weird.”

“What’s that?” Duncan understood the careful, Socratic nudging a young soul requires.

“I don’t know.” He shrugged. “How do you know if you’re really helping people? And how do you know if things are getting better?”

“It’s hard to see the successes when there’s so much suffering in the world, isn’t it? Is the struggle part of the destination?”

“I worked in a soup kitchen last Thanksgiving. And I wanted to go help build a house in West Virginia last spring break, but my mother was not cool at all.”

Duncan smiled. “That’s the thing. If you hammer in one board, it doesn’t do much. But what if everyone in this city hammered in one of their own?” Duncan bade the young man sit on the lawn chair he had brought to give away. “Let me tell you a story.”

Roger reshaped Duncan’s heart twenty years earlier. This was the reason, these twenty years on, that Duncan was sitting on the bench beside a table stacked with things he no longer needed. It was almost unfair; it was Duncan’s first day of college. He was carrying one of many boxes to his dorm when he emerged from a building’s shadow and fell into the sun. Momentarily blinded, his senses were slammed by those forceful, passionate words:

There are two kinds of people: those who change the world and those who make it worse through complacency…

Fresh from his just-cracked suburban cocoon, Duncan set his box on the ground and listened.

Roger’s skinny body barely filled out the black t-shirt with the worn, cracked letters that spelled out his support for Rwandans. The autumn sunlight was unflattering to his worn skin, but highlighted the power in those pale eyes, framed by wild brows.

You have been sheltered your whole lives! Will you step up to the plate? Will you become what you were meant to be? Or will you be a conscientious enabler?

Duncan learned that his secure, tree-lined, pep rally youth was not the real world. His father spent enough on his lawn in a year to support a whole Ethiopian family. His mother spent enough each year on her hair to bring electricity to a Laotian village.

Roger had been right about so many things; it was not easy for Duncan to change the way he lived. The most painful part had been when his father threw him out of the house for the night. His father had mocked his ideals, asking if a communist was allowed to go to a private university that charged thirty thousand dollars a year. If a Bolshevik should enjoy a dining hall meal plan that could instead feed dozens of starving children. Even spending a night in his car couldn’t soften Duncan’s resolve.

No matter how much we love someone, our paths will eventually diverge. Roger graduated, off to spread his gospel. Though Duncan stuck to their ideals, the friends fell out of touch. Duncan was soon in the real world himself, taking the fight wherever he was needed. Wherever people couldn’t take care of themselves.

The young man pushed his unkempt hair out of his eyes. “I understand. My dad says I can do whatever I want as long as I get a degree.”

“I wish I knew then what I know now. I didn’t need a piece of paper to learn to dig a well in Africa. I could have done so much more with those four years.”

The young man pursed his lips. “But how do you get the things you need?”

“That’s the beauty of the way we live; just as I’ve taken care of others, someone will take care of me when I retire. If you rely on people to be selfless and to work for the greater good, they’ll never let you down.”

Duncan’s eye was at just the right angle to catch the glint of a gold wristwatch through the restaurant window. The man wearing it was leaning back as a white-shirted waiter placed a steak dinner before him.

The pale eyes had not dimmed, but the face had somehow lost its distinguished crags. The man now had a paunch that was somewhat concealed in the folds of the tailored navy blue suit.

The woman across from Roger was bare-shouldered. He scrutinized these lines as he tipped the wine glass and greedily sipped.

The young man waved his hand in front of Duncan’s eyes. “Are you okay? Is something wrong?”

Duncan didn’t answer. He kept his eyes on his mentor and scratched a sudden itch through his worn secondhand coat.

Kenneth Nichols






































































































































































































































































































































































































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