His name is Earl. And he is not exactly a new person. In one month from today, Earl will turn 60. On Christmas of all days. But it was his presence this afternoon that was truly a gift. And a great surprise.
I will admit that I did not want to meet someone today. I wanted to stay inside and catch up on whatever it is people catch up on. I was texting this sentiment to a friend when Earl rode his bike up to the front gate of my yard. Talk about good timing.
Since my front door was open for some reason, I took it as a sign that Earl was just the person I needed to meet. Or remeet. So here’s another confession: I already knew Earl. We met years ago.
Earl and I have history and stories that we share. One story in particular became one of my first blog posts on this site. It’s a story about a guy helping another guy out. A story about friends becoming “brothers from other mothers.” A story about God using one to help the other. And then some... our daughters used to play together too, at the church we both attended but no longer belong to.
Our story was cut short when I moved away to take a church out of state. But I was happy to learn (or relearn) that Earl still likes the Lakers. Earl still does construction jobs. Earl still talks game. And Earl continues to work on his faith. More importantly Earl is still trying. He’s tasted death and, for now, refuses to let it back into his body.
It’s been five years since we last saw each other. In that time I had a bout with cancer. And he battled life and death when his liver and kidneys began to fail him. We both survived and came out better people. Different than we were back then. And so, it made sense that I would be meeting him again, as someone new.
Spending my lazy afternoon with Earl helped me realize that people change. We are not the same people we once were. Whether it’s been a day, a week, or a few decades, we have to acknowledge that some of the people we thought we knew can turn out not to be the people we thought they were. And we won’t know how different they are (or we are) unless we sit down and enjoy an afternoon together getting bitten by mosquitos and learning about one another all over again.
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.
Amy was heading south. We were going north. Both of us hoping to escape the smoke from the fires in our respective areas. Along with hundreds of other people from all over the place, we all lodged at the same place. The Oxford Suites in Pismo Beach, along the Central California coastline.
Amy sat beside us around the fire pit. I had done the same thing about 30 minutes prior. It was there a met John, Shawna, Greg, Jeff and their collection of kids and grandkids. They were from the Central Valley where smoke from both fires settled and stayed.
Amy came alone. But my wife and I learned she was traveling with her 78 year old dad and 15 year old son. I also sensed she packed a lot of baggage that she had been carrying since her son was born early after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage in utero. Fresh out of college, her son came into her life around the same time his father left.
As everyone retired for the night and went back to their respective hotel rooms, I sat with Amy and my wife, and talked until the propane tank ran out of gas. And then we talked some more, long after the hotel manager rekindled the fire with a new tank.
Most of what I learned about Amy I can not repeat without betraying her trust. I can say she’s 44, single mom, and works doing behavioral therapy with preschool kids in the Head Start program. She has a good understanding of life, but just doesn’t like the way life works. I understood her completely. She also loves Michael Franti, who sings about...love.
Amy has kind eyes that both tired and compassionate. She has a warm smile that is also tired and compassionate. And a gentle heart, which I suspect is tired too. But compassionate.
Off Highway 101. In dog friendly hotel. We shared our hearts. We shared our faith. We shared our fire. As the Spirit of love burned warm and brightly. Some strangers pass like ships in the night. Then there are the other ones. Like Amy.
Ivan. A Mexican-American with a Russian name. “I’ve been explaining that to people all my life.” It doesn’t surprise then that Ivan would be a technician who’d have to explain to me how to use my Nest thermostat that his company installed. And he did a great job at it.
If I weren’t interested in meeting Ivan, I’d say he was just an ordinary, nice guy who takes great pride at his job. But I did want to meet him. Something told me there might be more to him.
For example, the last thing Ivan wanted to do after graduating high school was to sit at a desk doing the same thing everyday, over and over again. So, he went to trade school. There he studied Heating and Air Conditioning because it taught him a little bit of everything - wiring and electronics, plumbing, and construction.
“I wanted to learn everything I can so I can know how to make the repairs on own house one day.” That’s his goal, to be a home owner. Today, however, Ivan is helping me maintain my home while he works a lot and saves up his money. In his words, “There’s time for trouble or fun.”
Born and raised in the Koreatown neighborhood in Los Angeles, Ivan has lived in the same zip code and on the same street pretty much all his life. “Maybe one day I’ll have a wife that will want to move,” but for now Ivan has made his home around a community that he knows well. In a city filled will people who come and go, Ivan is here to stay.
When I asked him what he wanted the world to know about him, Ivan told me that he had just been talking about that very question with his parents this weekend. He said, “It’s hard to change the world. But it doesn’t matter as long as I live up to my full potential in this life.”
Maybe, if we all lived up to what we were born to do, then maybe the world might change for the better. Although, if my new digital thermostat worked like it was supposed to then I never would have met Ivan or been blessed to have been reminded of my own calling.
So I’m glad I got to know him, and discover that he is a lot more than just an ordinary nice guy.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"...how he went about doing good..."