Why Gloria Dump is Everyone’s Favorite

“But you’re the nicest person I know,” I told her.

“Don’t mean I haven’t done bad things,” she said.

Try this experiment: Approach any random group of grade-schoolers, and ask them who their favorite character is in Kate DiCamillo’s story, Because of Winn-Dixie. Odds are pretty good that most of them – possibly even all of them – will say “Gloria Dump.” At least I know that’s the case among my own kids, and the same holds true for me, my wife, and most adults – why is that?

I remember reading the book to our kids and loving it. And last night we watched the movie again at Nicky’s request, and it, too, was well worth it. The mood set by both is a gentle one, and, despite real problems – alcoholism, desertion, jail time, and accidental death – there’s a sense that everything is going to be alright.

All the characters are memorable, flawed, and appealing – Otis at the pet shop, Miss Block at the library, Opal’s dad (a.k.a. “The Preacher”) – but none more so than Gloria Dump. “Ain’t that a terrible last name?” she asks Opal when they meet. “Dump?”

The name, though, is in stark contrast to the beautiful complexity and equanimity of the character. She’s blind, yet she sees deeply; she’s a dry drunk, yet her outlook is sober; she’s solitary, and yet her gift of hospitality seems to have no limits. Most of all she’s a peacemaker and a bridge-builder and a sponge for others’ suffering – truly a “wounded healer” if there ever was one.

Of course Gloria is everybody’s favorite!

As we watched the movie version of Gloria in action last evening, I kept hearkening back to yesterday’s Gospel, and it struck me as serendipitous that I’d encountered them both on the same day.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you…for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”

Here’s Gloria’s take: “You can’t always judge people by the things they done. You got to judge them by what they are doing now.”

For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers and sisters only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?

“Do you think everybody misses somebody? Like I miss my mama?” “Mmmm-hmmm,” said Gloria. She closed her eyes. “I believe, sometimes, that the whole world has an aching heart.”

So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Gloria Dump looked over at the preacher.

He nodded his head at Gloria and cleared his throat and said, “Dear God, thank you for warm summer nights and candlelight and good food. But thank you most of all for friends. We appreciate the complicated and wonderful gifts you give us in each other. And we appreciate the task you put down before us, of loving each other the best we can, even as you love us. We pray in Christ’s name, Amen.”

“Amen,” said Gloria Dump.

Gloria Dump, I came to recognize, is who I aspire to be: A human being conscious of ones colossal failings who is nonetheless resolved to make amends by, among other things, making room for the failings of others – by learning to love our enemies, in other words, really love them.

As Pope Francis said, “This is the Christian life,” and “being Christian isn’t easy.” The Holy Father continued:

‘But Father, to be Christian is to become some sort of fool?’ Yes, in a certain sense, yes. It means renouncing the cunning of the world in order to do everything that Jesus tells us to do.

Yes, renouncing the cunning of the world. That’s where Gloria Dump is especially inspiring because she spurns pretension and artifice, and is truly intent on being present to all those who cross her path, whether friend or foe.

Can I do that, too? “Let us ask the Lord for the grace to understand what it is to be a Christian,” Pope Francis recommends, “to understand the grace He gives to us Christians because we cannot do it on our own.”

As Gloria Dump put it, “Amen.”

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Rick Becker is a husband, father of seven, nursing instructor, and religious educator. He serves on the nursing faculty at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana. You can find more of Rick’s writing on his blog, God-Haunted Lunatic, and his Facebook page.

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