“You think you are generous for giving up your summer to walk? Just wait, God is going to show you His generosity. People are going to come up to you, and take you in, and give you things. God is going to show you His generosity, and when He does, you are going to remember what I said.”
That is what Paul, the father of one of Central Walk’s first host families told me in San Francisco. He was right. It has been three weeks since then, and hardly a day has passed when some act of unexpected generosity has not brought the sound of his words murmuring back into my brain. This past weekend in Reno made them echo.
On Crossroads, we get used to generosity–we rely on it. Whether it be an elderly parishioner taking eleven young adults out to breakfast after Mass, a nun donating what little money she had to our cause, or a passing motorist backtracking on the highway just to offer us water and sunscreen, the altruism of the everyday American manifests itself to us evidently and often. Nevertheless, what we encountered in Reno was truly astounding.
It came as a great joy to us when we leaned that our whole group would be able to stay in the same host family house. For logistical reasons, our group frequently splits up and stays with multiple host families over the weekend, but it always excites us when we get the opportunity to relax together as a group. We are sort of like Catholic-sized family whose members have not yet discovered each other’s faults.
The hospitality of our hosts floored us as it always does. There were clean towels and water bottles and chocolates for each walker, travel-sized toiletries in the restroom, and meals of legendary quality. They let us use their vehicle, did our laundry for us, and then acted like we were the ones doing them a favor by staying at their house! Had we been a retinue of royalty, we could not have asked for more.
Beyond all else, two acts of generosity impressed me most: first, that the host father (an accomplished sportsman) lent me his sharpening tools when he saw that I had found a knife some time before alongside the roadway; and second, that the reason that we were all able to stay together in the same house was because the family themselves had sacrificed to the point of relocating for us.
“So are all the girls upstairs?” I asked a female walker Saturday night. (We males slept on couches downstairs).
“Yes. I don’t know how: I have my own bed,” she answered, wide-eyed, “I am in the parents’ room. I don’t even know where the host family is sleeping!”
Highlighting these two acts of generosity may seem odd, but my fascination with them is genuine. To me, the lending of the knife-kit felt like a singularly concrete, natural, and yet conspiculously thoughtful act of generoity while the capitulation of sleeping quarters speaks for itself. I still do not know where the host family slept.
These and all blessings come from God, but sometimes men like me forget their provenience when human agents distribute them. The events of the next day in Reno (Sunday) left less room for forgetfulness.
On Sunday, Laura, Isabelle and I drove out to Gardnerville, Nevada to speak after the Masses at St. Gall’s Catholic Church. There was an 8:00am Mass, a 10:30am Mass, and a 5:00pm Mass. Because the drive from Reno to Garnderville takes close to an hour, we realized that we would probably have to hang out in a parking lot during the five hours between the morning and the evening Masses. We also figured that we would be missing lunch and not get to eat until we got back to a former walker’s apartment in Reno for a late dinner. On top of these inconveniences, we were very tired because we had had to get up extra early on account of the drive.
A mediocre day loomed, when God intervened.
After the 8:00am Mass, St. Gall’s youth group (which was washing cars behind the church to raise money for a religious event) offered us water, breakfast, and access to their chill rec room. Before the 10:00am Mass, the presiding priest asked if we would be busy at noon. We kind of laughed and admitted that we did not have any plans. Father then promised to take us out to lunch after Mass.
He took us to Woodett’s, a local diner which turned out to be owned by a parishioner of St. Gall’s. We had a pleasant meal as we talked with father about our walk and respective homes as well as his own life. His whole family had been born in Mexico and he himself had not learned English until he was in his twenties. I asked him about some of the struggles I imagine must accompany the religious life, and he responded in what I think to be a very astute manner.
“Yes it can be tough some times,” he said, “but so is every life. I have struggles as priest, but I also see the struggles of marriage through my parishoners. Everybody has a different cross to bear and every feels lonely at times.”
When the time came for Father to pay for the meal, we Crossroaders fidgeted under the strain of accepting charity from a priest, but then the owner of the diner informed Father that they supported our cause and that the meal was “on the house.” Relieved and yet doubly humbled, we Crossroaders declined the owner’s magnanimous offer to return with our whole group the next morning for a free breakfast. The restaurant was so supportive that we did not manage to depart before our waitress, who was also the owner’s daughter, considered joining us. She still may in a future summer. Please patronize Woodett’s Diner if you ever visit Gardnerville!
Last but not least, we got back to the Church and still had some hours to wait so Father let us into the youth group rec room. The place was dim and deserted, there were restrooms and showers across the hall, and–sweet Johnny Cracker-Jack!–there sat three full-sized couches coyly beckoning from the corner. We each picked couch and slept away our weariness until the 5:00pm Mass.
“God’s generosity.” I thought in Paul’s voice, “He Who truly does know how to give good gifts to His children in a way unrivaled amongst men. In His generosity, He does not just give us things, but gives us what we really need and, on occasion, just exactly–and I mean exactly–what we want!”