Yet there was also something about her that I just couldn’t put my finger on. So I asked a bunch of questions. And Jean was more than happy to answer them.
”I have to use this cane because of my scoliosis,” she answered. “I wore a brace as a child, but at 16 they told me it wouldn’t do me any more good,” she added without a prompt. It turns out that her painful affliction would return 50 years later when she was in her 60’s. Because Jean was so open and hospitable I was also able to learn that she recently “grew this hump on my back.” She turned around so I could see it better, but I couldn’t see anything. I told her as long as she wore sweaters with hoods on them no one would be the wiser. She squinted her eyes on mine and smiled with delight. She has the kind of smile that says there is still plenty of good in the world.
While I was not aware of any of her physical ailments, I did detect an accent when she spoke. One that was uncommon for Los Angeles, but not too unusual for me. When she told me her given name, Jean Marie Louise,* I guessed she was either French, French Canadian, or Creole. Turns out she is one of them, by proximity and by blood.
Born and raised just outside the French Quarter in New Orleans, Jean had two older brothers. One still owns the family house. “A hundred plus year old duplex that was unaffected by the flooding after Hurricane Katrina.” I told Jean, that I began and ended my first marriage (ironically to a woman named Jean...pronounced Jean like jeans) in New Orleans. But this Jean was not interested in that. Instead she was more interested in my house.
Jean told me that she loves to walk past our house because it always reminded her of home. Not so much the Craftsman style, or its history or age, but because of “the assortment of azaleas that always seem to be in bloom.” Only a true southerner would spot that. She planted some herself when she moved out to Southern California. Maybe that’s a thing people from the south do when they move, plant azaleas as a way to remember where we came from.
Like me, Jean does her own gardening. Unlike me, she pretty much fixes all her own stuff. And then she preceded to shared with me in great detail all that she has been fixing as if we had known each other forever. With an audience all to herself, Jean also let me know how she had recently hurt her arm (which was broken at birth due to being breached). If you’re curious I’m sure she wouldn’t mind me telling you that she hurt while fixing her own door. “It’s hard to get screws into that old wood.” (And here I was thinking it’s hard to take a door off it’s hinges, put on the saw horse, and drill screws into old wood.)
As my dog abandoned this episode of #KNOWvember to eat sticks off the avocado tree, I tuned in and watched the Jean show. A well-written “dramady” fit for the Hallmark Channel. In the background a neighbor’s music gave us a soundtrack. Though there was an absence of a laugh track, there was plenty of laughter. Better still, there were no commercial breaks or interruptions for a news alert. And no applause signs telling me when to clap. It was just me and Jean. Typical of any good show you watch, just as I was getting into our conversation, it ended. I wanted to know more. Maybe next week.
Until then, I returned to my regularly schedule program called life, with a puppy.
*I do not ask for last names nor do I write them down when someone tells me to help protect their privacy.
In three days Stephanie will get her braces off. This is a big deal for this sixteen year old junior in my daughter’s class. When I met her, Stephanie tried hide her smile. I don’t get it because I never had braces. But my daughter did, and maybe that’s why they are friends. Before I drove them both to the hospital where they volunteer, I decided I get to know my passenger a little better.
What I discovered in my interrogation (as my daughter put it) is that both Stephanie and I are the youngest in our families. She, however, is the only girl. I would come to discover that Stephanie is her mother’s daughter. They look alike, and sound alike too. That is to say they “are both loud.” Plus they are very close too. Unlike her two older brothers, Stephanie’s mom expects more from her daughter. I got that. I probably expect more from my daughter as well. Her mom, like my daughter’s mom, gets involved in her school. She is proud that her daughter is in the second best Magnet School in the country.
Even though she tries to hide her smile, Stephanie is not shy. Or so she says so. She also said she can speak both Spanish and English fluently. On top of that, Stephanie is learning to play the drums, which means she is also learning how to read music, which “is like having an extra language.” I get that. “Before it all looked like squiggly lines, now I know what they are.” That observation made me smile. It also made me wonder if she found surprise and joy like that in all things. I should have asked. Instead I asked a different question. And her answer to that one was “I like action movies, and mysteries because it’s fun to find out the ending.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that’s pretty much the joy of watching any movie.
Stephanie is sixteen. And on January 1 she will turn seventeen. While it’s still “better than having your birthday on Christmas. But still everyone comes over and says ‘Happy New Year!’ And then they remember and say ‘Oh, happy birthday. It’s like being second best.” I get that. She wants to be something more than that. As of today she wants to be a pediatrician when she grows up.
Oddly, Stephanie doesn’t like to think of the future because it scares her. “If I set my goals and not achieve them, I’d let myself down. I’m afraid of failure.” I get that all too well. I told Stephanie every great things was born from failure. As I explained my theory behind that, she listened. She got it.
I’m glad I took the time to get to know Stephanie. She’s a smart, perceptive, giggly, loud, teenage girl who the world is waiting to welcome her with open arms. Which is pretty cool because she wants the world to know that she like’s meeting new people.
Trust me when i say, I get that a lot better now.
Not Daniel. My introductions seemed to intrigue him. Like me, Daniel hates being labeled. “When I tell people I’m a Christian they automatically put me in a category. We don’t take the time to meet people anymore.” Really, God?
At this point in our conversation, it only seemed apropos to confess to Daniel that I too was a Christian, and a minister, and told him the reasoning behind this project. (And this blog site.)
The more I learned about Daniel, the more I realized we had more in common than just our faith. For example, he too is married to an actress, a woman he got to know as a friend first before moving into the dating scene. “There was something alive inside her. I wanted to get to know her depth.” Like my wife and I, Daniel and his wife share a faith story, share the same political views, and hold dear the same values. They too live in Sherman Oaks. He is a musician as well, and has a kind soul. He is hospitable and welcoming. And smiles.
Unlike me, Daniel is originally from Seattle. He is the oldest (not the youngest) in his family. “I am a miracle child.” He started life with a 10% chance of surviving. In fact, he was named after the legendary Biblical character, Daniel, who survived the lion pit. He attributes this first two weeks of life is what gave him his survival instinct, the very thing that gives him his drive today. Combine that with his faith, it’s easy to see why he “doesn’t let anything get in his way.”
We were both happy that this #KNOWvember challenge is what brought us both together. Even though we both might argue it was God’s Divine intervention. “I wasn’t supposed to be here,” he said. “I was going to go home an hour ago, but my wife was still working so I stayed.” Really, God? You kept him out here for me? Thank you.
After meeting Daniel I walked into the rhythm of life. The weight that had caused me to worry was gone. The joy that had been missing was found. The evening sky now alive with light bursting from my soul. Thank you, God. Like all the great drummers, your timing was impeccable.
As I contemplate my next challenge I thought about what Daniel taught me, and it believe it’s something everyone in the world could use. “Don’t let anything get in your way.” Just because the right opportunity isn’t as obvious as you might like it, or just because there are hurtles to overcome or panic attacks that pops up, don’t let that noise distract you or get in your way. Simply pray and let God lead you to where you need to be. Being present with the Divine at all times allows us to see the Divine in all things. Even drummers.
Love [people] even in [their] sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth. Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you have perceived it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love. —Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov 
And then Richard Rohr writes this:
“God refuses to be known in the way we usually know other objects; God can only be known by loving God. Yet much of religion has tried to know God by words, theories, doctrines, and dogmas. Belief systems have their place; they provide a necessary and structured beginning point, just as the dualistic mind is good as far as it goes. But then we need the nondual or mystical mind to love and fully experience limited ordinary things and to peek through the cloud to glimpse infinite and seemingly invisible things. This is the contemplative mind that can “know spiritual things in a spiritual way,” as Paul says (1 Corinthians 2:13).
“What does it mean when Jesus tells us to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind (not just our dualistic mind), and strength (Luke 10:27)? What does it mean, as the first commandment instructs us, to love God more than anything else? To love God is to love what God loves. To love God means to love everything . . . no exceptions.
”Of course, that can only be done with divine love flowing through us. In this way, we can love things and people in themselves, for themselves—not for what they do for us. That’s when we begin to love our family, friends, and neighbors apart from what they can do for us or how they make us look. We love them as living images of God in themselves, despite their finiteness.” . It all begins and ends with love.
Then the Apostle Paul wrote, But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.”
1 Corinthians 13:13 MSG
“Love Wins.” Robb Bell
It all begins and ends with love.
1] Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, trans. Constance Garnett (Encyclopedia Britannica: 1952), 167.
 Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, eds. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 224-225.
Her name is Lisa O. At least that is what’s written on her name tag. She was the one listening in on a conversation I was having with someone else in the checkout line at Trader Joe’s. That woman, whose name is Susan, was going to be the one I was going to write about. She and I have a mutual friend that we both ran into while buying groceries. Susan seemed pretty hip and chic, with manicured nails and beautiful fire engine red hair. She is a hair stylist and given the cut and color, she was a professional.
Then there is Lisa O, with a baseball style t-shirt and jeans. She has this kind of grayish green blue coloring to her hair. She seems to be a more do it yourself kind of gal who rings up groceries and talks to everyone while doing it. Both women liked the idea of #KNOWvember, but Lisa O seemed like she understood it better. Maybe it’s because her day is fille with meeting people she’s never met before.
Because I only had a few minutes of Lisa O’s time, I cut to the chase and got down to getting to know her rather too quickly. It reminded me of a movie where you learn everything about a person’s life in one scene. Or what speed dating is must be like; you have a couple of minutes to get to know all you can of different strangers as you search for a prospective spouse.
As she the food I would be serving my kids a little later on, I would discover that Lisa O isn’t the only Lisa working at that particular Trader Joe’s location. There were others. I just didn’t meet or see any of them. However, I’m still unsure if it’s her last name that begins with an O or if management just got too confused with so many Lisa’s working there and instead of using numbers (Lisa 1, Lisa 2, etc.) they gave them letters (Lisa A, Lisa B, etc.).
As I bagged my groceries, I did, however, learn she is a singer in a couple of different bands. One being an all girl Black Sabbath cover band called Black Sabbatha. By the way, Lisa O didn’t think it was funny when I told her the name could have been “White Shabbat” (I’m laughing just writing that out and knowing only a few fellow theologians and my Jewish friends will understand why).
As I was waiting for my card to finish paying my bill, Lisa O told me she likes to perform and take on different personalities. This made me wonder if her name is really Lisa or O or something completely different, like Judy C or simply Carol. As we concluded our conversation transaction, she said, “If you can’t be Ozzie then you might as well be yourself.”
As I began to put the groceries away in the cupboards I began to wonder if all the other people I met were telling me the truth. Or was it just a persona of themselves that they wanted to be. Does it really matter? Meeting people where they are is often more important and way more interesting than meeting someone because of who they are.
I think Lisa O would agree...that is, if that’s her real name.
Danielle rents the room we’re sleeping in. It’s in her contract. All the borders at my mother-in-law’s house are moved into new places for a week to accommodate the Thanksgiving turkeys who show up and disrupt everything.
Danielle didn’t seem to mind. Since coming to San Francisco from Brooklyn, this native of Maine has found her place, in the city and in this house. And she’s finding her way into the family as well.
When I asked her why she moved to San Francisco, Danielle said it’s because “New York didn’t have the highest rent anymore!” Her humor already fits into my family. Well, I’d come to find our she got an opportunity of a life time and took it even if it meant she had to leave her boyfriend and dog behind. Coming from a small, farming community she’s used to taking opportunities when they are presented. This was no different.
As a teenager who had a love and passion for culinary arts, Danielle tried to break into the restaurant business the old fashion way - moving from dish washer up to chef. But she was stopped because “it’s a man’s place” they told her. Well that didn’t stop her from going to culinary school and down to New York where she eventually found an employer who shared her passion and ethos on cooking seasonal foods and being mindful of sustainability practices. They would be her ladder to open a new location in the Bay Area.
Danielle learned how to cook from her grandmother and mother. Three generations of creative and hard working women who did not survive by relying on men or their rules. Maybe that’s why she seems to be a natural in the kitchen of this house. No taller or any quieter than the other women who are packed in the tiny kitchen, Danielle is certainly right at home with this sisterhood. And having tasted her lobster roll and shrimp sandwich, I’d say she’s found her place in the professional kitchen as well. I’m glad to have shared a meal or two with her. Happy Thanksgiving.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”