Thursday, June 24, 2010


I'll refer to my day today as "visitation day". Paid plenty of visits; an old friend, my youngest daughter, the mother of a dear friend. And among that, gave a ride downtown to an elderly Japanese lady to catch her tour bus as she was going strawberry picking with a group of... elderly Japanese folks.
She was due to arrive at the Japanese center sometime between 4 and 4:30 and I was way early, so I drove up Jackson to 23rd where I know there is a Starbucks with overstuffed chairs and I have a good book that needs reading.

I'd just settled into said chair with a double short when an older African-American man in a wheelchair rolled over to me and asked what I was reading. I handed over the book and he made a note of it in a little black notebook with the comment, "I love me a good book, but I also love me a good film. Ever heard of Fellini or Kurosawa?"

We soon got to talking (how does that happen anyways?) and pretty soon I had scooted my chair to a large table where about 5 other older African-American men were gathered. My new friend, Louis, introduced me to everyone as fellow book and film lovers.
Among the men were 2 retired SPD officers, 1 retired bailiff and a couple of retired dockworkers. Louis wasn't retired, he proclaimed. He's always been an artist and "you can never retire from that". They all had a good laugh and I noticed Louis was missing most of his teeth. The whites of his eyes were yellowed. I couldn't resist.

"Why you in a wheelchair, Louis?" I asked.
"I'm dying."
The table quieted down and all we could hear was Al Green pleading for himself and Mrs. Jones.
Louis gave us the quick version.
Pancreatic cancer. Inoperable. He's also on dialysis and is HIV positive.

One of retired cops, a big tough looking guy, said, "Damn, Louis. You should be dead already."
Louis laughed. "Yep, yep. I probably should."

We talked more. We exchanged favorite foreign film synopsis, trashed Spielberg and Lucas for ripping off Kurosawa in their Star Wars trilogy and lamented the poor distribution of African and Middle Eastern films.

I want to remember Louis - a 60 year old man who looked 90. A man who's body has given in but with a mind that refuses to quit, interested in reading yet another new title, enjoying the latest Cannes nominees. A man who, I discovered, has been taken in by one of the men in the group and given a place to live out his last weeks or months because Louis has no family and his friend could not bear to see him ending up in a shelter. The man who offered up his home had met Louis only 2 years ago when he went with a church group to serve at a local shelter.

Before I realized it, my phone rang. The elderly Japanese lady was ready to get picked up. I'd been visiting with my new friends for over an hour and a half.

I gave everyone goodbye handshakes - until I got to Louis. I hugged him.
He blushed. "See you in heaven, angel."
See you around, Louis...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Me and Juan's Friend

God sometimes throws you a bone when you least expect it, but most probably need it. Badly.

My first few days of being unemployed have been filled with having coffee with dear friends, lunch with beloved offspring, quiet time and mundane errands. And a sudden rash of phone calls on my cell from a young man seeking "Juan".

My first impression of RG (I dubbed him such, as I don't know his name and he is Random Guy to me) was that he's a 20 something stoner. He sounds a little out of it, but not stupid. He's not a child, but sounds lonely.
He called my cell phone about 3 times in a row, each time asking for Juan. Each time I responded in a curt, "there's no one here by that name". By the 4th time though, his voice sounded familiar. Sort of like when you are in a crowd and suddenly a familiar face looms somewhere out there. I gravitated to that voice.

I thought I would be witty and had the following exchange with him:
RG: Juan?
Me: No such person here.
RG: What did you do with him?
Me: Cement shoes, buddy. He sleeps with the fishes.

He quietly hung up.

The following day he called again.
RG: Juan?
Me: Nope, still not here.
RG: You the lady said he had cement on his shoes?
Me: Nope, I'm the lady who said he had cement shoes and was sleeping with the fishes.
RG: Can I call him later?

He calls again today.
RG: Hello?
Me: Looking for Juan?
RG: Yeah
Me: What do you think I'm going to say?
RG: He's not there.
Me: No, he's not. This isn't his phone number, remember?
RG: Dude, I haven't talked to him in ages.
Me: Yeah, not looking good for you, buddy. Not today. Not tomorrow.
RG:I'll try later.
Me: Sure, why not.

And I hope he does.
I don't know who he is. I really don't need to know who he is. He's looking for Juan and has ended up finding me. I'm looking for myself and there he is - Juan's friend. I have a made up back story cooking in my mind. It has to do with a long time friendship between the two young men and one betraying the other. Juan avoids RG's desperate attempts for reconciliation.

For someone who has constantly been surrounded by people and is passionate about reaching out to them, RG is filling a huge gaping hole. Granted, he's only filling a small portion of it, but God, he's trying. And I am thankful for him and his random calls.

Call me, RG. We'll find Juan together...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A New Season

This morning at 10:30 am - when I usually would be going into a staff meeting at MIPC - I was sitting on a wood bench at the vet clinic. A small sack of dog poop resting by my side. So this is transition. This is change. One Tuesday you're gathered with colleagues discussing a lectionary text and planning for community building events and the next week your big task of the day is to figure out if your dog has parasites. (she doesn't, by the way)

Waiting rooms do give me time to pause and think. To review the past couple of weeks since the return from vacation. I've been feted and celebrated, affirmed and congratulated. I haven't been on such an emotional high from others' appreciation since ... I can't think of any other such moment in my life. As a friend mentioned at my goodbye party Friday night, most people have to be dead to hear friends talk about them in such a manner. I'm still above ground - I'm one lucky person.

It's a humbling experience.

But here I am, on the other side of a closed door. And like a person seeking the exit of a dark room, I'm feeling my way along the walls of my days. Scour the want ads. Not too many calls for spiritual leaders on Craigslist. Update the yellowing 15-year old resume. Make a list of all the housekeeping chores that were waylayed these many years - and dread having the time to actually do them now. Bemoan the absence of old black and white movies on regular tv, and hear myself actually muttering, "when I was young, you could have your choice of old Bette Davis movies on tv".

I'm reassured by friends and mentors that entering this new season will take a little time. I need to be patient and kind to myself, give myself the space and time to explore what might and will come next.
I first need to convince myself there is a next.