It took me almost seven miles to drive the two back to my office today.
It was lunchtime and I’d just locked up my post at the senior center where I do outreach to needy older people twice a week. My head just wasn’t in the drive. I almost forgot I had skipped breakfast. I should be hungry.
I was much too busy chewing on a vocabulary of terms that might describe the past few hours like a ravenous midnight scavenger at a refrigerator door.
I made a U turn somewhere on Boulder Highway. I’d missed my turn about 5 miles back while I had been thinking thirty years into my future.
“How was your morning,” said Cate as I came in with a portable office hanging from both shoulders. I could have easily missed her greeting in my zeal to get to my office to offload and unpack from my trip. They all know I’m out of the office Tuesday and Thursday mornings doing outreach. And by the sarcasm in her voice It had obviously been a crazy busy Thursday at the office during my absence.
Getting my leftovers from the fridge to the microwave as staff meandered into the lunchroom for our last togetherness hour of the workweek, I had been trying to figure out how I wanted to respond to her question. Unprompted, she continued “You know, there are some of those days wherein working here, you say to yourself ‘How did I ever get so lucky to have ever had the privilege of meeting this client?
And then there are days like today.”
She was oblivious to the fact she had just written the lead to my story.
Lunch was usually a good time of banter, slurping and Facebook jokes but the brakes of the food truck that pulled up out front with a bed full of canned goods and perishables was our cue. Jokes and food aside for the next 20 minutes, the lunch team exited the break room and knew the routine of working at a non-profit. Our unattended microwave lunches quickly cooled as we unloaded what would be lunch, dinner and breakfast for many hundreds in days to come. The food pantries at our little non-profit family resource center were getting filled today once again.
But it was Thursday, which in the four-10s world of work, means Friday and a full 84 hours off work. Every weekend is a three day weekend for us after four consecutive 10-12 hour days of work where the average monthly income of a waiting room client is under $800 and quite often zero. Most of them are unaware of the day of the week. They are often unaware of the coming weekend except that it means their urgent needs are put on ice for three more days while their caseworkers go have a drink or two, lie out by the pool or take a few days for a Disneyland visit. Every —-day is pretty much the same for them trying to figure out how to keep their hard times from getting worse…how to keep their heads and spirits up as they negotiate the poorly designed flow charts of social services for a meal, a pillow or enough gas at the stove to heat what might be their last can of donated soup.
It was not only our Friday but also payday. A mixed blessing. My small take-home had long since been loaded for an electronic shoot out from my bank account into the coffers of screaming others as quickly as it would arrive. If I was lucky, the aftermath of the online massacre might leave a buck fifty to take me through the next couple weeks.
Such a relative term.
But at the moment, it had become one of the words I’d sought just earlier that afternoon.
Is luck just chance? A random draw for the longer matchstick? A disproportionate distribution of goodwill from the gods? Is that really what it all boils down t
Milkcoffeecreamer, baconraspberriesbananas. Mostly coffee though.
I tried to create a short, repeatable rhyme for my 3am grocery run that I was always doomed to forget.
My sleep schedule has always been random at best and an early morning grocery run was normal, especially on paydays and especially when I’m out of coffee…and up writing.
I rarely use that word anymore, but when a lot of your work involves distribution of donated food to hungry people, you soon discover that the inherent sadness of the word is a glorious trumpet sound to the many who regularly survive on over-salted canned goods and family pack sacks of hard dry beans. A banana, fresh cream, bacon…most are rare exotics in the world of food pantries. Perishable delicacies.
Still searching for the words that had driven me 7 miles out of my way yesterday morning, it was another obvious keyword.
I am lucky.
I am also perishable.
Existentially, these facts of life don’t sit well with me. They are much too random for this Christian man turned advocate for those who are unlucky and perishing.
At the senior center yesterday, you could have easily called the man I met unlucky and perishing, but if that is true, I will gladly trade my fortunate circumstances to perish along side him in this troubled world. He may be poor, but he is far from impoverished.
In the earlier words of Cate, “How did I ever get so lucky to have ever had the privilege of meeting this client?”
At 81, he looks every day of 50 with the wit of a 20 year old. I feel old around him. He’d popped his head in a couple times prior in the bingo room where I meet the seniors to match them with any help and resources my newbie enthusiasm could find. Today, he came to our set appointment and greeted me.
“I have some more crap for you, Don,” he said as he handed me a file folder screen printed with those exact words and filled with a $900/month snapshot of his last 30 days income and expenses for us to review. The “MORE CRAP” folder was the theme for the day as we poured through his documents and poured unexpectedly into the colorful life of this octogenarian I now hope to become over my next 30 years.
His humor and happiness were unperishably captivating. Like I sat in the front row seat at a comedy club, he picked on me for two hours and I threw barbs right back on stage to him each time. I couldn’t tell you all the topics we covered in the friendship we were both very obviously interested in creating. We covered the compulsories I needed to do my job for him but his needs weren’t all the reason why he came that morning.
He had no idea what he was teaching me. Perhaps he did, and that’s why he came.
What followed was a series of nostalgic one-upsmanships about old Vegas, the rises and falls of an old man’s life and sage recollections of accrued blessings about being 81, alone and incredibly content at being both. He was genius, but no angel. I like a man who can use the right expletive at the right moment for the right reason. I was very quickly realizing the likenesses of our lives despite the differences in the eras we had lived thus far. And without my consent, I was being mentored in a bingo room.
There’s something about the value of relationship with an older man that is entirely lost on the generation of younger men today. As parents, we remind our kids, “Wait til you’re my age,” as if some secret epiphany will someday bite them square in the ass and they will understand. He did more than that. My ass was being very graciously chewed by a quickly perishing nobody who was becoming somebody to me in the process. Like a schoolgirl with a crush, I could only gaze and listen. For the experiences and wisdom I thought I’d accrued by 53 were being systematically trumped by the silver words of my newest friend who taught me that while perishing is unavoidable, life is not at all about being lucky.
He has lived quite contently on less than your house payment. He reads books and finds something of interest in everyone and a clever pun in every experience. Television is a waste of time, he adds with conviction. The drama of life is a far better sitcom. And as he leans over the table, he looksinto my eyes with such depth, my already humbled gaze was weakened. And he said to me, “Don, my new friend, we are all lucky simply because we live. Shit happens, as they say nowadays. But fortunately, a good attitude can flush it every time.”
I’ve no idea how many more years he will be around but as he got up to leave a meeting that had lasted much longer than either of us had ever expected, I filed his documents in the “MORE CRAP” folder and promised to do what I can to make whatever the time he has remaining a little better if I could. And as he grunted off the threshold and out the bingo room door, he turned back and said, “I like you, Don. I think you’ll make a really great eighty-year old one day and maybe you’ll be as lucky as I have been.”
Well, my cup is empty. And so is the pot I made at 3am while you were sleeping. But my eyes are red and wet as they have been most of this morning as I’ve been writing.
I die a little more each day. I feel it.
But indeed, if I should make it another thirty years, I shall be lucky simply to have lived and will have learned from a wise old man to be content with what I’m dealt.
And I promise to flush regularly.