In Kate DiCamillo’s sweet little chapter book, “Because of Winn-Dixie,” ten-year-old Opal takes home a stray dog from her local supermarket and decides to name him after the Winn-Dixie store she found him in.
Opal is new in her small town in Florida and is lonely and the ragamuffin dog clearly has been abandoned so the two become a cozy team of shared acceptance, fun and love.
Eventually Opal meets the local “witch,” as the neighborhood brats call her. But Opal, who is not afraid of witches or nearly anything else, delights in Miss Gloria Dump and makes fast friends with her.
They are first acquainted when Opal chases Winn-Dixie through the overgrown grass in Miss Dump’s yard. He had sped away from Opal but she finally finds him in the backyard eating peanut butter out of Gloria Dump’s hand.
They greet one another and after sharing a peanut butter sandwich together they sit down to visit.
Miss Dump, who had put in her false teeth so she could eat, finishes her sandwich and then says to Opal:
You know, my eyes ain’t too good at all. I can’t see nothing but the general shape of things, so I got to rely on my heart. Why don’t you go on and tell me everything about yourself, so as I can see you with my heart.
This is how true friendships always begin and deepen.
We learn who people are by seeing them with our heart. It ought to be the most natural thing we do. But so often it’s not.
Society, church, political correctness has taught us to be on guard, to hold back, to check people out. We question motives. We survey outward appearances to see if they meet our approval. We listen for things that ring a little bell of rightness inside our head before we move on to acceptance. Do they agree with my politics? Are they a Christian? Are they as moral as I am? Do they drink too much or swear too often or have tattoos? Silly stuff like that we ask ourselves. And none of it comes from the heart. It’s all wound up in cynical judgments and too much caution and a failure to look deeper and listen for more.
There is that great line from Longfellow that I know but way too often fail to keep alive in my thoughts and actions: “Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”
The neighborhood boys rode their bikes past Gloria Dump’s rickety old house, saw the high weeds in her yard, and called her a witch without ever having seen or talked to her.
But back behind the house in her small garden where she felt the good earth and kept to herself she let a scraggly dog eat peanut butter out of her hand and welcomed in a little girl who needed a friend.
Life, with all of its busy demands and its crankiness and rudeness, and our own participation in the ugliness of unkindness and aloofness and the harsh criticism of others, can be a deadening thing to our souls. It keeps us so closed off from the true warmth of the human spirit that at its core seeks to know love and to give it.
I want, if I can, to be like Gloria Dump and see people with my heart.
© 2012 Timothy Moody