Blessed Are the Dry Cleaners Who Taught Me About God’s Mercy

How an awkward exchange at the dry cleaner helped me to understand the Beatitudes

Fra Angelico, “The Sermon on the Mount”, ca. 1437-1445
Fra Angelico, “The Sermon on the Mount”, ca. 1437-1445 (photo: Public Domain)

Last week I ran into the meek of the Earth while dropping off my dry cleaning.

The place takes cash only, so it’s not uncommon to see people fishing through their purses or wallets to cover the cost of a few shirts. In front of me knelt a woman with wild hair, a black cane and ripped jeans. She counted out the coins and shuffled over to the counter to drop off a small plastic bag of clothing. I’ve gone to this place for years, and the people behind the counter know everyone, so they exchanged pleasantries while I ticked off in my head the errands for the day.

My drop-off was quick, and I made it to the door before she did because she stopped to fish a banana out of the trash can. Dimly I registered the fact, “Who throws away a whole banana?” as in my own home, such an act would be considered treason by several of my children who run, but I pulled out all the change I had and thrust it at her when she came out of the store. She waved me off. “Go on! Get. I don’t need your money.” I sputtered, “I just saw you get food out of the trash can.” She stared me into my car, unblinking.

Disappointed and wracking my brain over how it could have played out differently, I left the parking lot. In my mirror, I saw her fishing out of another trash can with less luck. My brain kept turning it over, marveling that she should find such a healthy breakfast. Who comes into the dry cleaner’s to throw out food? And it hit me, the trash bag in the store was new, clean and fresh for the morning. No one throws out a perfectly good banana. No one did. They knew she’d come. They knew she’d refuse what she did not find herself, and they’d figured out a way to let her hold on to her pride and give her healthier options than anything she might find in other trash cans.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice. They shall have their fill. I knew the people at the store longed to show her mercy, and they’d found a way. Blessed are the pure of heart, they shall see God. God sees them, being the hands and feet in this world, and if not feeding the 5000, feeding this woman as many times as she returns. I made a mental note to leave a bigger tip and found myself rejoicing to know in the goodness of these people, a goodness I’d have missed if I’d been successful in making myself feel good. The Beatitudes bring us both a glimpse of Heaven, of the dispositions of those who inhabit it, and invite us to participate in the process of living it now.

We need to learn to be peacemakers, to be poor in spirit, to comfort the mourning, to be meek, to hunger and thirst for justice and merciful. We need to learn that all of the beatitudes are ours to imitate, and all of them lead to the Kingdom of God. Sometimes, we will be the ones doing, other times, we’ll merely be given the privilege of witnessing and rejoicing at the sight, and sometimes, we will be the ones receiving from the body and blood of Christ. In any of those events, rejoice and be glad, for yours is the Kingdom of God.