Jan. 2018 One Year To Go
He was waiting and ready to get home…not in an unkind way, just had travelled 6 plus hours and was tired. He brought his small travel case to the trunk and tried to pick it up, but couldn’t muster the leverage. I grabbed it and got it taken care of.
He was short, on the plump side, and after getting himself situated in the front seat…he began asking the questions ( which is unusual in a Lyft ride ). I shared a smorgasbord of minimums ( since I don’t drive to talk about me ) and finally got the conversation turned around and headed in the right direction.
He had spent 20 years in the Bay Area, working for tech firms, but, in his opinion, San Fran was for folks under forty. Making his way to Portland, he had started working for an assisted living firm and enjoyed his work. In 2009 he got the blessing of a triple bypass…totally helped him shift his perspective. At this point in the drive I was assuming we were going to end with ” they all lived happily ever after! ”
The company shifted from Oregon to Florida, laying off hundreds of people…but he was invited to stay, except he would have to commute to Florida or move there. He didn’t want to uproot his partner and his life here, so he decided on the travel option. Hours on Friday, hours on Sunday…to keep the life he has.
Then the spin, a slow arcing crash, that hasn’t set in yet. They discovered cancer in his prostate. Further study showed that it had spread into other areas of his body. It is inoperable.
Things to consider…He’s not supposed to make it to 2019. He has a catheter, which makes travel cumbersome and awkward. He has a job that takes him away from those he loves, every week. He needs the insurance…one medication, that normally costs 5k a month, costs him $28 a month. If he quits his job, they go bankrupt.
I can feel the deep, painful ache as he describes the conundrums surrounding his closing journey, the last act. He admits he’s in denial. Except for the catheter, he feels fine. I ventured into the story of a friend of mine, who passed away. I was playing guitar in the hospital and in-between songs she asked me what happens after you die. Her sister was sitting next to me, a reincarnationist, and I knew they had been talking. There was a subtle pause on my part and then this came out, ” whatever love would do, that’s what happens after you die. ” She pondered, nodded and smiled, and we got back to the music. When I share this story, he pauses as well…and then we’re there, pulling up into the driveway. I get his bag and ask if he needs anything else. We part ways.
The force of his choices settles on me as I drive back to town. There’s a voice in my head that says ” sell everything, quit your job and go see the world! ” And after he’s gone, his partner would be left with nothing and that’s not a choice he’s willing to make…what a compassionate choice, what a selfless choice. A suffering for the sake of others. A tangible christology.
I think I may find myself hanging around the airport on fridays, late afternoon, hoping to get a call…it would be the luck of the draw…the conversation and his presence would be worth the wait.
The ache felt a bit like this…
Jan. 2018 The Bookkeeper
The invitation to drive took me down by the river. I pulled into the circular gravel driveway and parked near the front steps. I was 10 minutes early. With 5 minutes to go, she opened the front door, carrying two shopping bags and a lovely smile. She was 70 if she was a day and I hopped out to help her with her carry-ons. She asked me to put her bags in the back seat and that she wanted to sit up front. I complied.
She had clear eyes and an engaging disposition. Her translucent skin was tight over her cheek bones and I could see slight trails of veins running beneath the surface. She had been married but he had passed away about 10 years ago. They’d had two boys. They grew up and one went into sales, like his father, and the other became a pilot. One day she got a phone call that she should come home right away. She did. They told her that her youngest son, the pilot, had drowned in the river…he was in his forties…left two grandchildren. I didn’t press her for details.
She was off to work, she told me. After college she decided to take up tennis. She liked it so much, she got a job there…as bookkeeper. She’d play several times a week and did the books. She got her friends to come play tennis. Sometimes they’d pack all the kids up and go to the beach. Those were good days. They don’t do that anymore…times change.
She asked me about my life and the things I’d done. I shared teaching and travel, a little about my family. Talking to her was like sitting under a giant, spreading oak, on some southern veranda, sipping iced tea. She was all charm and hospitality.
We pulled into the tennis club and I helped her with her bags. She showed me where she worked. The owner, her former tennis teacher, came out and she said to him, ” Oh, you have to meet Kevin! He has lead the most interesting life! ” She was kindness, beginning to end.
Her story felt like this…
Jan. 2018…The Dying is Easy
The dying is easy, it’s the living that’s hard.
Some times I park along Alberta, waiting for a ping. Just as I was getting settled in, she reached out. I drove east a couple blocks and there she was…wool eared cap, baggy clothes, shopping bag. She climbed into the back, bottles clinking, letting me know she was too tired to walk home. It wasn’t far, but she was just.. so.. tired. The smell of whisky filled the room.
She was 66 years old and a chef. Been cooking for a long time. Spent 16 years as the chef for the Boys and Girls Club, as well as other eatery’s. That night she had made two pots of soup to take to some friends who ran a restaurant… and they gave her some amazing chili rellenos. She shared the rellenos with her friend who ran a local bar, but she kept some for her dinner…they were the best relleno around. After a drink or three, she was going home. She usually walked but the alcohol made it a bit of a challenge.
She had four children. One son died, a year old, of leukemia. A daughter died, at 27, of leukemia. One daughter was still alive. She is 47. Her other son died last June…June 2. He was 29. He lived with her and was a chef, also. She loved that he lived with her. She knew that drugs were involved. When the tox scan came back it showed Fentanyl. She wants to find the person that sold her son those drugs and have him face the consequences. It all feels so helpless, so hopeless, so broken.
Watching her, via the rear view mirror, she got smaller and smaller as the ride went on. I shared with her what my friend Steven says…grieving is important, and hard, and there is no wrong way to do it…and I told her I was so incredibly sorry.
As she got out, I asked her what her plans were for the evening…I’m going to pour myself a drink and cry myself to sleep. She closed the door and made her way slowly up the stairs. The car was still and the scent of whisky, lingered.
Part two, same night.
I was driving south on Milwaukie Avenue, entering Sellwood, when she asked for a ride. I pulled in, 50 ft from the bar, at the nearest available parking. She hustled over and asked to sit in the front seat…would that be OK? She hadn’t used Lyft much and she was glad she wasn’t driving home…she’d had a bit to drink…out talking with friends. You see, her dad passed away 3 weeks ago.
She said, ” I’m not sure why I’m telling you this. Maybe, because I’ve had a bit to drink. ” I shared that I was a safe place and happy to listen. As we meandered towards 82nd, I played my role well. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer 3.5 years ago. Had gone through chemo and it had gone into remission. Her sister got married and dad did the wedding:-) and then she had his first grandson. Oh, how he loved that little boy.
And then it came back, with a vengeance. He got into an experimental program, boosting his immune system, and things were looking good. But it didn’t last. And so his three daughters, his sister and his wife attended the meetings and the checkups, being supportive and looking for answers. It looked like it might work, that he might have been spared again…but several days after they were told that the cancer had paused, he died. She was there with him, till the end…
He was peaceful. He knew Jesus. He told her, ” It is well with my soul. ” I shared with her, ” if his faith was accurate, the information reliable, then he only had good options. ” She eyed me quizzically. I continued… ” If he got well, then he gets to continue life with his amazing family. If he dies, he goes to be with his Savior and other family. Either way, he wins. It sounds like your father was the kind of man that you deeply admired. His faith is one of the things that made him like that. ”
We were at her boyfriends house by then, parked out front. She got out, left the door open and lit up a cigarette. The smoke wafted in among the seats and gearshift. She cried. The end of the cigarette glowed as she grieved. Tears traced riverbeds on both cheeks. We talked about funerals and grieving…whether she could get up and talk about her dad in front of all those people. I shared that I was a pastor and she was surprised. I told her there is no bad way to do a funeral. Do it in a way that is meaningful to her, her family…and honoring to her dad.
I suggested that since her dad’s faith had shaped him into such a remarkable man, perhaps that faith deserved a second glance…a renewed consideration…she stilled…
I gave her my card and told her she could call me anytime…to talk or if she needed help. Don’t know where it goes from here. Just know that being among the sheep…wandering, wondering.. is where I was called to be…they so long for grace to be true, for love to be real, for whatever’s next to have meaning. I hope their right.
This captures that ache, never resolved, till all is made new.
Jan. 2018 Airport Run
He jogged out of the building, casual business wear and a backpack. I asked where we were headed and he said, ” To the airport, but I don’t think we’re gonna make it. ”
“I’ll get you there as quickly as I can! ” and off we went, hitting the 5 south and jumping on the 84 east.
He thanked me and added details. ” I have this new iPhone X and for some reason, the face recognition isn’t working right. I shaved last night and I wonder if that did enough to throw it off kilter. Anyways, my flight leaves in just under an hour and I’m not sure there’s time. ”
” Where are you headed? ” I asked.
” Amsterdam. ”
” You’re packed rather light for a Europe trip. ”
” I’ve learned over the years to travel this way. It makes it easier to not lose things you might need. ”
” What are you doing in Amsterdam? ”
” I’m giving a keynote to one of the largest internet companies in Europe. ”
” What’s the story behind doing a keynote in Amsterdam? ”
“I was raised in Atlanta. Mom and dad got divorced and mom couldn’t make ends meet. So, I got a job working at McDonalds. I worked 40 hours a week while going to high school…pulled straight A’s and ran track as well…the work was to help us exist. During that time, I decided that whatever I was going to do, I was going to do it to the best of my ability. If I was running the drive through window, it was going to be the best drive through window. If the floors needed mopping, I wanted to do such a great job that when the manager saw those floors he’d say, ” Who mopped these floors? They look amazing! “. I ended up being in management, myself, during high school.”
“ After high school I started messing with computers. I opened a little computer shop, learning how to fix and sell them. I taught myself some programming. After about 10 years I sold it. I got a chance to interview with a huge U.S. based internet company and had the courage to negotiate an amazing career. To the point that they fly me to Amsterdam to give a several hour keynote to some of Europe’s largest internet influencers. “
I asked, “ What knowledge did you acquire that helped create this opportunity? “
“I’ll give you three rules of engagement. They are not for everybody, but they worked for me. My life is not reproducible, but the concepts are useful, nonetheless. 1. Do your best at whatever you do. I mentioned earlier how I approached my McDonald’s time. I apply that to everything. Why go through the motions…apply yourself. 2. Be a life long learner. In my opinion, the difference between an expensive, private college education and the local public college education is one 5 hour project a week. So you can decide if you want all that debt or use your dedication to explore and save yourself that headache. I’m teaching my little girl that learning is something she will do the rest of her life! School is just a temporary facilitator, hoping to give you the skills to do it on your own. 3. Believe that you’ll survive the risk. Even though I will get to the airport with only an hour to spare, trying to get on my flight to Amsterdam, I’m still going to give it a shot. I’ve only been turned away once. Only once did they say that I couldn’t try to make it. I’m a Diamond member in the flyers club. I’ve packed light. Usually, they give me a pre-checked boarding pass. Really, all I need to focus on is my attitude and how I’m going to communicate with those who really want to help me, whether they know it or not. “
At this point in time we had turned off of the 205 and were heading west on Airport Way. I mentioned to him, “ I really appreciate how you’ve not pressured me to go faster or break any laws to get you here. “ He said, “ Why would I do that? It’s MY fault that we are running late. It’s MY choices that created this scenario. Maybe that is the 4th rule of engagement…Be responsible for your choices. Own it. “
As I pulled into the drop off, I asked him to let me know if he made his flight. A few hours later an email popped up on my phone. I got a five star rating and a note that said, “ Made my flight. Headed to Amsterdam. “
This song came to mind.
Jan. 2018 My Alien Hero
Just warning you…it’s a long one and a bit sad….
I pulled into the tight parking lot, cars on either side and hit the button that stated I had arrived. A couple of minutes into the wait I got a phone call. Usually, it was from the rider, asking for a few more minutes or a different location. This was from a friend of the young lady whom I was to take…she was her high school mentor and was providing this ride. She asked me to be patient and I complied.
A young lady opened the building door, bracing for the cold. To my surprise, a child, bundled against the frostbite, navigated the stairs with her. My mind raced into slow motion…this kid couldn’t be more than 3 or 4 years old…I didn’t have a car seat…should I cancel the fare…sh@t, I don’t know what to do…
He got in first, she followed and I sang out, ” Everybody buckled in! ” I was going to break the rules because…she looked tired?…I didn’t want to ruin their evening?…I was a coward? I carefully backed out of the parking lot and headed towards Naito Parkway. At the first stoplight I got past the initial triviality and broached the subject of the car seat. I apologized, but felt I needed to make her aware that she should travel with a car seat if she planned to use Lyft or Uber. She shared that she normally does but she had come down to her meeting on the bus and didn’t bring one with her. I understood and continued with my decision…right or wrong…and I drove very carefully.
She wanted to be a massage therapist but couldn’t get any help with college. She had found a program that would help with books, but she couldn’t get any student aid. I asked her why not and the story fell into place.
Her mom was married, in Mexico, to a man who was abusive. They had four kids and mom couldn’t take it anymore. So when the youngest, this lady (who is 22), was 8 months old mom took all the kids and crossed the border. They slept in sewers and cardboard shanty’s, finding their way north. The mom’s sister and brother-in-law had come over and they encouraged her to leave her kids, like they had done. She wouldn’t hear of it.
Finally, she found a job or three and a place to raise her family. She always held down at least two jobs while getting her kids through elementary school, jr. high and high school. They all got jobs, started building a life, always looking over their shoulder…cause no matter how long you’re here, you always wonder if it will last.
It didn’t for the husband and wife who crossed over. They eventually brought their kids over. They worked hard. Started two businesses…a brick and mortar restaurant and a food cart. They had 20 employees. And one day ICE picked up the husband while he was at the food cart. He had a misdemeanor charge and ( at least in the lady who’s telling the story’s perspective ) they sent him back to Mexico. It’s been a couple of years since the husband and wife have seen each other. Their kids have stepped in to help, but it’s not the same.
And the mom who is riding in my car, with her three year old, doesn’t know how it works out from here. We talked about how awkward it is that because my heritage is from Scandinavia, no one cares when my family got to America…her family could have been here a 100 years longer and yet, are under suspicion…I apologized to her. She is the kind of person that ( in my opinion ) America is perfect for…she works hard, pays taxes, wants an education to provide a service that will benefit other folks. And the uncertainty of her longevity hasn’t made her bitter or afraid. She’s doing the best she can with what she’s got and it’s a good life.
As she was telling the story, I kept wondering what I could do…a friend of mine had given me $20 for driving his family home from the airport. I hadn’t wanted the money anyways. But that seemed too trivial. As I was processing, we pulled into her mobile home complex. She guided me to the back and had me stop in front of her home. The entryway was a huge brown tarp hung over some kind of framework, a slit in the middle…protecting the front door of the single wide trailer. As she unbuckled her son and got him out of the vehicle, I saw her place a bill in his hand. He reached out and handed it to me. I asked, ” Are you sure? ” and she said, ” Yes. ” ” Gracious “, was my reply.
As she walked through the brown tarp entry, I opened the folded bill…$5.
I know there are lots of perspectives on this…I don’t know what the right answer is. All I saw was a mom, a son…and the dream to make a life…better. And I was moved to become a better man. It’s a new year. Perhaps that’s a reasonable resolution that I can sustain. Feels a little like this…
Jan. 2018 Texas
She came around the corner of the building, etched into the night via the streetlights. Six feet tall, athletically slim, wearing a knee length skirt, knee high boots, winter coat and scarf….shoulder length blonde hair and a flashing smile. She was stunning and it was New Years Eve. I apologized for not finding a closer loading site and she told me not to worry.
Small talk commenced. She was raised in Texas and played soccer for a Florida University. When she got drafted by the Portland Thorns, she didn’t know where that was. ” Does Portland, Maine have a team? ” she wondered. Location not withstanding, she came and played for several wonderful years. And after her fifth knee surgery, she decided it was time to move on…to something else.
She found herself working for a local athletic conglomerate. And here, her attitude faltered. ” I was a professional athlete and now I’m in the business world. I don’t quite know what landing on my feet looks like. On the soccer field, everything was clear…what was needed to be done, by whom and when. The office is less definable. ”
Drawing on my years of coaching and encouraging jr. high and high school students, I ventured in. ” Perhaps the same skills that made you successful in soccer will find the same value and benefit in the corporate world. Showing up on time, prepared to work hard…being passionate and compassionate within your team…sacrificing for the dream…those all sound like the skill set of someone successful, no matter the environment. ”
I glanced back, to her corner and her eyes flashed me a grateful smile. ” I hope so. I want to believe that…”.
As I dropped her off, I asked her name. ” I’d like to share with my daughters whom I had the privilege of serving tonight. ” She happily complied. And I gave her mine…it was a whisp on the night air.
I drove away, sad. I’ve been her before…successful, competent, confident and passionate concerning an area of my life. And then it all changes. Your character gets challenged to the core and you’re not sure who you are or how you’ll fit in…and you get to move forward, one day at a time, building with what you have, to accomplish what you dream. It’s a brilliant life, moment by moment.
This song always gives me courage…
Dec. 2017 The Noble Thing To Do
She had a pile of red hair, a crazy haystack of fading sunset hues. She had moved to Portland with her boyfriend so that they could be closer to his daughter. They’d had her for a year and now it was time for her to go live with her mom, his ex. And so they moved across the country ( the US is a pretty big place, if you’re driving ) so that they could continue to have time.
They moved into the same apartment complex. Dad, fiancé, ex and daughter all under one roof…not the same apartment, she clarified.
I told her how lucky that little girl was, to have so many adults acting like adults. She smiled. She shared that she was trying to be an adult, but sometimes she stayed up till 3 am playing video games and then she needed coffee before work.
And she was headed to coffee. And then to work.
I told her that’s what adults do…have fun, be responsible.
She laughed and sauntered into Starbucks…like an adult!
Feels like this…take a listen and if you’ve never heard Ben before…get acquainted.
Dec. 2017 Bookends
It was an interesting day of bookends…crazily different, and yet?
Ride 1…Single, late and apologetic. It was supposed to get icy and she was headed off to work. I asked about her holiday season. ” It’s not Jesus birthday! We should be celebrating his birth in August. ” She went on to share how she loved the holiday growing up, but once she found that out, it was really meaningless…” it’s nice for people to be nice. And who am I to be critical of folks giving gifts to each other, but it’s just another day. “
I asked about spending time with family and she got real thoughtful. ” My dad died four years ago. We were professional jet ski riders ( the old ones that you stand on ). There was a guy who wanted to learn so my dad took him out. He took the governors off of all his jet ski’s. Somehow the guy ran into my dad at 50 mph. Rather than check on my dad, he rode away and my dad drowned. My dad was my best friend.
As I pulled into her work, I wished her the best the holiday could provide. She wished me the same.
Ride 2…The first thing I noticed was the picture…mom and daughter…happy. Daughter, a brunette, and mom, a flashy redhead…both smiling. When I pulled over, daughter helps mom get situated. It was very cute and endearing. When I asked where they were going the daughter said, ” I’m taking may mom to a strip club! That sounds like a great thing to do on christmas eve, right! ” My eyes stopped, mid-roll, and I chuckled. ” Do you have enough ones? ” , I asked. She laughed and let me know that they had a cash machine at the club.
I told them, ” Thanks for the ride… ” and they said, puzzled, ” Sure. ” and I explained that they were my goal reaching ride. Their trip with me was getting me a $170 bonus for the week. Daughter hoped they weren’t responsible for paying that.
As I pulled up to the club I tossed out a ” Be careful where you swipe the credit card. ” and off they went, laughing.
In retrospect, I find the two rides so intriguing. Family makes common days, holy. If we are with the ones we love, the event doesn’t matter. And if they are not available to us…the most sacred of days is less. Perhaps that is why Jesus says he is with us always….that every day is meaningful.
Perhaps this says it best…
Dec. 2017 A Quality burger, Now and Then
It took him awhile to get to the car. Skinny white dude with a cane. Every motion, every movement came at great effort. He settled into the front seat, having to use his hands to lift and turn his legs so he could close the car door. He smiled and off we went.
He was from back east and this was not cold. Cold was Boston on a winter morning with the wind blowing off the ocean. That was cold!
I asked permission to go deeper. He nodded. I asked what was wrong with his body. He jumped right in. ” Back in 1994 I was diagnosed with MS…Multiple Sclerosis. I used to be able to run 5 miles in 25 minutes…now I can’t run 5 steps. ” My heart trembled. What dreams and promises had been shattered, what passions numbed? But there was no self pity in his voice, no ” woe is me ” in his demeanor. I asked if there was any secret to his success and endurance. He talked about staying away from inflammatory foods…BUT…you can’t live life without a quality burger or beer now and then…and he smiled. And there were some drugs I’d never heard of that were helpful.
He’d been a journalist…back in the day when the Oregonian put out two issues a day. He’d been married and divorced and deeply loved his stepson…and his exwife wanted that relationship to continue. He worked with a blood bank, scheduling blood drives. All this while fighting a disease that will finally win.
I asked him how he stayed in the game, how he hadn’t gotten bitter. “Some days are better than others. I might have unleashed a holistic stream of profanity when I got into your car…cause I’m tired of my condition. And I would have apologized. Some days are harder than others. I’m on disability now, so I have time to invest in things that matter. Resilience and a sense of humor seem to be essential for survival…at least in my case. Life and my parents helped with that. ”
My heart got heavy. Such beauty in the brokenness, such courage in the chains that bound his body. I thanked him for the inspiration. We pulled in, next to the curb. I asked if I could help and he let me know that he could manage. The door opened, hands lift the legs and place them on the curb. Using his cane and the door frame, he pulls himself up and stands. Maneuvering across the driveway and up the stairs, he raced towards whatever was coming next.
Felt like this…
Dec. 2017 Finding Love…Again
She was here because she fell…and broke her collarbone. It was a young horse and sometimes you just can’t predict what’s coming next. The time off her equestrian gig got her thinking…Is this really the job I want for the rest of my life?
So she came to Oregon to go to college… a little older, a little wiser. She took environmental science to prepare her for being an environmental lawyer…and sometimes you just can’t predict what’s coming next. She met him. They got married. They decided to go back to the midwest and help out in his family funeral home business.
She’s a go-getter. She changed her major to business because if you’re going to run one, someone ought to know what is going on. Her and the mother-in-law became co-collaborators in helping dad and son get along. She pitched in wherever she was needed. Her man-child ( her words ) just couldn’t settle.
He got into nursing school and off they went. She stepped into insurance while he buckled down…and you just can’t predict…he made friends with one of his nursing colleagues, one thing led to another, and he told her that it only happened once and he was so sorry. She stuck it our for 8 months. It was when the nursing colleague took her to lunch and shared the “I love you” texts from her husband that she bowed out.
A little time passed and she realized she didn’t like being alone. Went on tinder, tumbler and bumbler…some times 2 dates a day…and nothing panned out. Finally, she took one last chance. You just can’t predict. They bumbled into a dog park date. The dogs got along, they got along. They bought a bottle of wine. He cleaned her camping wine cups, found someone to remove the cork and they settled on a park bench to finish the fall. 8 hours later they slipped away, deeply connected.
She told me ” It’s important to be attracted to someone, but the real connection is in the mental, emotional stuff. Someday, I’m going to be 75 and the physical stuff won’t be worth much. ”
” Sounds like what our parents tried to teach us. “, I said.
She smiled. We chatted for another 10 minutes. Small talk. The meter was off. She would see him on the weekend. She was learning to ride again.
Feels like this.
Dec. 2017 Studio Cat
If you head past the Moda Center, driving north on N. Interstate Ave, you might notice an industrial area. At night, the building lights diminish as they strive to reach the street. It was in this shaldowland that I had parked, waiting for my client. He came strolling up a side street, wearing his flannel shirt, easy smile and a winter cap, with the wool ear flaps, pulled low and a little cockeyed. He slid into the back and I pushed the destination button.
I asked what he did and he said he worked for a recording studio. I asked how he got started and he gave me something like this. ” I was a drummer in a band in high school. We played about a bit. Then one of my friends got a four track cassette player. We started making loops. Then I found out that there were these guys making a living doing what I was doing for fun…and I wanted in. I worked up in Seattle for 12 to 15 years and then moved to Portland and been here about the same. ” I mentioned that I had a friend who once ran a recording studio in Portland, Tim Ellis at Kung Fu Bakery. He said, ” I knew Tim Ellis. ”
And then it started to flow. I talked about buying my first studio…borrowed 15k from my brother-in-law…using a Tascam 388 and an early Mac. And then, coming to Portland and hiring Tim to work with high school students, teaching theory and recording. ” We payed him by selling grapefruit and oranges from Florida. ” I said. And he talked about working with a band, doing a couple of recordings at Kung Fu. He said, ” I didn’t know Tim well. He would stop in during the sessions and we would chat. That being said, I knew him as a good guy. ” I asked if he made a living, doing just the studio…or did he do a half dozen things, like Tim, to make it work? He shared that he was one of the lucky ones and got to do just the studio.
And then this idea came to me…like the smell of bacon on a campfire morning. The previous monday I had had a meeting with a former student of Tim’s that was looking to expand his skill set as it concerned recording. Now I had met an engineer/producer that was of Tim’s caliber. I wonder…hmmm…so I followed the lead. ” Do you ever have interns? Younger, wanting to learn folks who serve in your kingdom. ” And he said, ” Yes, I do. ” I explained my situation and he said, ” Here’s my website. Message me and I’ll set up a chance for you and your friend to come by the studio. ”
The message has been sent. And will be sent again…and perhaps, again. The answer is always no if you never ask:-)
Felt a bit like this…
Dec. 2017 Getting Wood
It was 10ish and I was close to heading home. The ping sent me north of the 84, about 33rd…a half mile from Sandy Blvd. I pulled into the parking lot and there he was, waving on the other side of two rows of parked cars. I motioned that I would go around and he turned back to the young lady carrying the wood.
As I pulled up, he hung on to a grocery bag and she was carrying two bundles of firewood. I popped open the trunk and after storing their carriables, they got into the back seat. Heading south on 33rd, we talked about the weather and how cold it was ( that was their perspective. I was wearing shorts and thinking about Montana spring and fall ) She had wanted a fire in the fireplace, so, they called around and this grocer had some. Dressed in their winter walking best, they set out to make her dream come true.
And they made it halfway, with a stop or two along the way. Now, heading home, they didn’t want to lug their precut lumber all the way back…and that’s why they needed me. And it was here, in the conversation, that the back story unfolded.
” It’s my birthday! ” he offered. There was a pause and then a voice in the back, a “her” voice, said, ” Somebody’s going to get lucky tonight! ” And without missing a beat, he said, ” I believe both of us are going to get lucky tonight! ” We all started laughing as I let out a Woohoo! She said, ” I am so glad it’s dark. I am so embarrassed right now. ” To which I replied, ” I’m sure red is a good color on you ”
I pulled up in front of their home. They gathered the goods and as they walked away, smiling, I rolled down the window and said, ” If you need matches, give me a call. ”
I chuckled all the way home.
This has that feeling….
Dec. 2017 The Fall
I didn’t intend to go that way, but I am so glad I did. It was a small house, the outside a little ragged but you could see through the windows, its festive spirit. I could see her hurrying through the house…turning off lights, calling the dog back inside, adjusting blinds. Under the watchful porch light, I saw her turn and lock the door and realized this was going to be my first Xmas Party ride.
Long legs emerged from a knee length, red, ruffled satin skirt that high lighted her short waisted coat and comfort heels. Her long blonde hair was pulled straight back, hanging below her shoulders. With a distracted smile, she opened the front passenger door and asked if she could sit there, rather than in the back and I said, ” Absolutely! “.
She was off to a Christmas work gathering, staff and clients, and while she really just wanted to stay home…she needed to go. Afterwards she had a birthday party to attend and her mothers voice kept playing inside her head…” If you aren’t well enough to go to school, then you are not well enough to go have fun. ” Mom won. She would support the first to enjoy the second.
I noticed that as she was walking from the house, her gait was forced. As she was encouraging me to change lanes to keep with the flow of traffic, she shared that she had several broken ribs. Several weeks earlier, as she was walking up from her back deck to her back door, she had slipped on the third step…and just like in the cartoons, had fallen backwards
( seemingly in slow motion ), reaching for a hand rail that was not there. After she had gotten her wind back, she found coffee spilled all over and her phone, resting 10 ft away. She mustered up the courage to crawl over, make the call, whisper for help and soon help was on it’s way.
Time lends itself to either silence or greater disclosure. She asked what I did when I wasn’t driving and for some reason, the spiel went out the window. Usually, I have been a teacher of history and leadership. But here, I shared that I had been a pastor/teacher for 30 plus years and that in my experience, religion and relationships were two of the hardest connections to navigate. She agreed. She was living with her twins, in the house I had stopped by, while her and her husband worked out relational details…like whether to stay married. They had been separated for several months. What had once been young love was now looking for consistency and commitment. She was waiting to see if his words would match his actions before she decided what was next.
As I pulled up to the drop-off, I shared with her what we taught our Heartlife kids…tell me whatever you want, but what you do is what tells me where your heart really is. ” The way you are taking your time in reconfiguring your relationship is an incredibly insightful choice. “, I said. She gave me a grateful smile, pulled her coat tight and slipped out into the misting Portland evening.
I share these stories because I want you to experience the common-ness of our journey. These stories are our stories. I am a pastor who has found that his title pushes people away. So, I choose to remove that hurdle by describing my work in relatable terms. Am I wrong in doing so? I’m not sure. Some would say that I am missing out on sharing the Good News…I would say that someone taking the time to listen and engage is the beginning of the Good News.
The newest song I’m working on goes something like this…
The loneliest place that I’ve ever been
Is sitting in church, surrounded by friends.
We put on our shrouds of perfection and faith
And we sing all the verses of Amazing Grace
While the pastor teaches on how to fight sin
The loneliest place that I’ve ever been
Is sitting in church, surrounded by friends.
I hope they make it. I hope he has the courage to face his struggles and that she has the courage to accept his change, if it happens. And I hope, the next time I give her a ride, it’s the two of them…and until then, I hope she felt heard.
Dec. 2017 Daddy’s Girl
I pulled up to her house on a humble side street in Multnomah Village…there was barely enough asphalt for a car to pass through, hedged by gravel strips on each side. I double checked the address and clicked that I was available for transport…and I waited…and I waited. Eventually, a petite brunette with a shoulder bag settled into the back seat and we headed to the airport.
She was the oldest of 9 kids, home was the midwest. She helped out in her dad’s restoration business as she was growing up as well as being a second mom to the 8 siblings that followed after. She went off to college and after a couple of years, realized she wanted to transfer schools and do something else. Her parents said, ” No. ” So she quit.
She rattled around a bit, getting some expertise in cooking and baking, ended up being a cook’s helper and deck hand on a yacht…and one yacht lead to another. Some were 100 ft. long. Some were 280 ft long. On the big ones, there would be 27 staff to oversee the 3 to 12 residents. By then she was no longer a deck hand, but stuck to being the primary cook/chef. She spent some time in Florida…and Alaska. Years go by.
And then she gets the call. Things at home are falling apart. She heads back to work with her dad, committing to six months. Six months turns into three years of learning the family business and being support for her younger siblings.
Her husband, a Kiwi she met on her first yacht, works with her and her father. After three years they move to Portland to open their own franchise.
And that is where she’s heading today…to a franchise owner’s meeting. She doesn’t want to go, but she will. It’s an old boys club and there are few women leading out in this kind of business. But she has a friend who she’ll get to share a glass of wine with, once she gets there, and after the day of meetings she’ll be back building the business tomorrow night.
We talked about fear…and rebuilding relationships…and letting go of things in the past. I called her the Mother Teresa of the Midwest for how she cared for her family…she smiled. We talked about resilience and how it’s acquired…and that she has it in spades. And when my house floods, I know who to call.
Here’s something to remind you what we are all called to…
Dec. 2017 A Year of Failing
I pulled over, just past Voodoo Donuts…a Portland symbol of decadent desserts…I dare you to take a pink box of 12 delectables onto any airplane and see how long it takes to get an offer:-) They could be gone in moments. But back to my story. She got into the back, lugging a few bags and a sunny disposition. When I asked what she had been up to, her response was short and sweet…exploring.
She was an American living in Japan. Every month she travelled to a different location to explore and learn. This was her first time in Portland. Her occupation was as an entrepreneur and she lived in Japan because it was easy to find folks to do the coding she needed…I assumed she was talking about computers.
I asked her about success and how she would know if she’d made it. She said, ” There are two kinds of success in life. One, is to do what you are passionate about and get rich. Two, is to do what you are passionate about and find a way to just get by. Either way, you are spending your life doing what you are passionate about. The only thing that really stops you is the fear of failing. This is my year. I am going to learn to fail well so that it won’t hinder me as I pursue what I love to do.
The Year of Magnificent Failure struck a chord within me. I have been driving Lyft so as to avoid God’s calling in my life…why…because of fear. Fear of failing, fear of rejection, fear of not being good enough, persistent enough, relevant enough all raise their heads…like wolves at a sheep dance.
God is patient. He gives me Voodoo Donut moments of delight and fulfillment, just to show me where we are headed.
I’m a slow learner and a quick fearer…unless I’m encouraging someone else…then it’s all ” Gung ho, fight for your dreams, yada, yada, yada! ” Hypocrite on bad days, almost through on good. I need a year of failing magnificently on my resume, and who knows, it’s almost New Years…perhaps a resolution is in order and it sounds oddly appropriate, since we fail at them anyways, right?
As I let her out, the dome light came on. She had sunny blonde hair peeking out of a wool knit hat, rich eyes and a flashing gleam of a smile. I told her that I wished my kids could understand the ideas she grappled with. She gave me her number and email. Perhaps they’ll have the courage to reach out, fearlessly.
And it all reminds me of this…get your country on.
Nov. 2017 No Beer, No More
He spoke with a hesitant accent…stepping out of the soft shadow darkness of Alberta St. I asked how his Thanksgiving had gone. ” Fine ” he said. I asked if he was going home to relax and have a beer or was he heading to a party. ” No beer for me anymore. Just going home. ” And the story began to unfold.
He had come from Mexico when he was young…14, or maybe 15, or maybe even 16…his family didn’t celebrate birthdays so he didn’t know how old he was. His father tried to drown him, numerous times. His mother would come to his rescue. His father poured a boiling pot of coffee on his brother…boiling. It was time to leave home.
He sat, still, in the back of my car, leaning on the door and looking out the window. His slow, accented words plied the silence for space and opportunity. ” I came to Portland and went to high school. I got a girlfriend. Once I got a girlfriend, I stopped going to school. She would work and I would stay home and play video games. I had no energy for anything. I finally went to the doctor and was diagnosed with depression. My friends think that I should be able to understand myself well enough to know what is wrong with me. I didn’t know…I just had no will. I got some medication and things got better. When I was young I used to drink, but looking back, that was a bad combination with my depression. I don’t drink anymore. ”
He has two children, ages 1.5 and 6. ” Do they notice when you are on your medication? ” I asked. He nodded. ” I’m taking classes on how to be a better father. I don’t want my kids to experience what I did. Also, I have a new job, I’m working hard and I’m getting my GED. I finished the first two tests and have two more to go. Then I’m going to college. ” You could hear the fight and courage rise in his voice. He was going to win this battle.
I pulled off of MLK and he slipped back into the shadows. I blinked and he was gone.
A song to remind.
Nov. 2017 A Babe for Broadway
She bounced into the car on Broadway, checking her phone and buckling in. When I asked her about her Thanksgiving, she said it had been fantastic! ” I fixed a big meal, my 20 yr old son helped me in the kitchen, friends came over for dessert, celebrated my daughter’s birthday and opened presents…it was awesome! Come to think of it, it was like that last year, as well! ”
She has three kids…17, 20 and 23…girls, young and old, and a son in the middle. She had a marriage that lasted 15 years and she’s been a single mom for the past 10. However, her ex has just become her house mate. He wanted to spend more time with their kids and so she agreed to rent him a room. It’s working out great. There is no expectation or obligation that doesn’t get talked out. Everyone gets to be adults. I let her know it was stunning that she allowed her ex to partake in the whole family process. Beautiful.
As I pulled into the drop off for the dance club, I thanked her for sharing her joy. “You’ve been the happiest Thanksgiving-er I’ve picked up this weekend. You’re investing in an amazing life! ” She got out and leaned back in and gave me a blazing smile…” Thank you. ” And off she went, navigating the sidewalk in her heels, mid-thigh mini-skirt and faux pelt hat. Oh, to be 40 again:-)
Perhaps this reflects a bit of her journey….
Nov. 2017 The Hit
It was slow on Thanksgiving morning. After unloading the dishwasher from the marvelous vegetarian feast the night before, I hit the streets about 7 am. Starbucks provided a lovely caramel macchiato as my sidekick and then came the expectation…who would be up and about on Thanksgiving?
It was my second ride and I picked her up a little after 9:30 am. She wore a knee length winter coat and straight, shoulder length hair that shimmered with grey and light brown highlights in the early morning sun. Her eyes were clear and she had a beautiful smile. After hassling her bag into the back seat, she headed me towards downtown and the conversation ensued.
She was trekking to Seattle to be with friends and family. The bus was her first choice and ally…no driving, no hassling with traffic, wifi and the chance to settle in with a good book. She was retired, having spent her career in technology. ” Did she love what she had done? ” I asked. She paused, hesitation washing across her face. It was a career, not a passion, she implied, without saying much. I mentioned that I had four children who were seeking their way in the world and that I was always asking my passengers if their work lives were fulfilling. I would take whatever tidbits were offered and gift them at home.
She changed the subject and started asking about me. I shared that I was a teacher and that, early on, I realized that I wanted to have long term relationships with students who were so inclined. I told the story of how the week before I had joined a handful of my old students to lead worship at a small church over in Bend. We hadn’t played together in over 15 years and it was so much fun. Also, I shared about a breakfast I had with a former student a couple days earlier, there were supposed to be four of us but two cancelled at the last minute, and how we talked about life, decisions to be made and dreams to be pursued. And that he was mentoring my own son, just as I had invested in him, years ago.
As I looked in the rearview mirror, her gaze was out the window and she seemed… thoughtful. A smile played across her lips. She had settled in for the ride and was at ease. We crossed the bridge and meandered through quiet side streets, managing small talk, till we found her stop. Folks had already gathered, waiting in line for the bus to arrive. ” Right on time. ” she said and as I sidled up to the curb, she spoke again, ” You are certainly the best looking Lyft driver I’ve had. ” and then she opened the door and scooted out with her bag in tow. My ” You are very kind. ” chased her down the sidewalk. I looked in my rearview mirror, calculating…tried a couple of slightly self-deprecating facial expressions, raised an eyebrow and put a stray hair back in place…shrugged and drove off in search of another fare. It was going to be an interesting day.
This song, from Ben Rector, keeps reminding me of how we are all linked together…
Nov. 2017 Coming Out
I picked her up just south of 23rd and Burnside. It was late afternoon, stretching toward evening. I said ” Good morning! ” and instantly felt an internal grimace. She smiled and slid into the back, passenger side, seat. Dishwater blonde hair, a gentle smile and a nose ring that shone sporadically as we passed underneath the overarching streetlights were her immediate gifting.
I stepped into the questing…that line of dialogue that allows me to create a connection and guides into the sharing of a story or two.
” How long you been in Portland? ”
” Not long. A few months. ”
” Where are you from? ”
” Central Oregon. ”
” What’s the dream? ”
” I want to be an astronaut. I was good in math and science during high school. Then, the year following, I got kind of disillusioned. But now I’m back, living in Portland, going to community college so I can get my prereq’s out of the way. Then it’s off to the best college I can’t afford to acquire the debt and knowledge that will get me closest to the dream! ”
I smiled. She had a great sense of enthusiasm and wit all rolled together. A wry smile lit up her face.
” Are your folks supportive? ”
” No, that kind of shut down when I “came out”. They are really good people, but that pained our relationship. My mom is doing better than my dad at dealing with it. ”
” Do you have someone you love…a significant other? ”
” Yep! ” and her eye’s lit up like Xmas.
” Will you be able to go home this Xmas to be with your family? Could you both go? ”
” No. It’s too soon. It’s not just my family, but my extended family, as well, that is dealing with it. ”
” Let me guess that you come from a fairly conservative christian family? ”
” Yah, I grew up in the church. We went every sunday. Spent a lot of time in youth group. My folks are really good people. It’s hard to be at odds with them. “
By then I had pulled off of Cesar Chavez to our destination. I asked for permission to speak freely. She nodded her head.
” I know a bit about conservative christianity myself. In all of that, there is one thing I would like to share with you. The God of the bible that I read wants you to know that He loves you. He loves you. ”
We made eye contact. She smiled, opened the door and piped up ” Good morning! ” , closed the door and headed down the street…back into her orbit, looking for her life to launch.
A song comes to mind. Nothing new, but timeless for me. Reminders of why I’m here and what I’m hoping for.
Oct. 2017 An Artist’s Tale
It felt like a country lane and that a modern version of Bilbo Baggins was waiting for a ride. His grey hair, askew, and his arms full of bags…he struggled into the front seat, bags at his feet. He asked me to be aware that he might need help with his seat belt…and he did. Warm greetings followed and I shared with him that I trusted his directions to where ever we were going more succinctly than my mapping iPhone. He smiled, concurred, and promptly got us lost:-)
Well, not really lost, just redirected to a different freeway entrance. He was heading to his studio, near Montgomery Park, where he was going to pursue his craft, with the help of his assistant, for 8 hours. Oh yes, his craft…he is an artist, author, teacher, set designer, etc. and has been doing it since he left home at 17, which was 52 years ago.
He was born in Kentucky. His father was a coal miner. His mother told him, ” Just keep moving, cause once you set down, you die. ” ” I believed her and I ‘ve been moving ever since “, he said. As we were meandering through the lovely North Portland neighborhoods looking for that freeway entrance…I mentioned that I had a daughter who was considering art and asked what advice I could give her. I claimed to have heard that it was feast or famine…and he smiled. ” I’ve had enough feast to forget the famine. Tell her to never stop. Let her know that doing art is a value unto itself and that is its own reward! ”
I pulled into the studio parking lot, a large warehouse with dozens of internal rooms, all leased to creatives. I asked if I could see his studio. ” Why, of course…and I’ll give you a little tour of the building. ” He had shared that he had just been diagnosed with ALS several months ago. His team of 11 OHSU physicians seemed to think that it would only stay in his shoulders. That explained why he needed help with the seatbelt…and why it was difficult for him to manage the keys to enter the building…I helped him with that…but at his own studio door, he showed me how he did it…by swinging the keys up from his waist, using momentum like a diver heading for the pool, and as the keys got high enough he thrust them towards the keyhole and slid them home.
Inside the studio, the morning chill had not worn off…the walls were 10 or 12 feet high with the roof open to the rest of the building. His art covered the walls. He shared that he had just come back from visiting his kinfolk back in Kentucky and that he was a bit travel weary. A side story…he and his brother were headed to lunch when they saw a cow giving birth in a field near the road. They pulled over, enraptured by her effort, and then her enterprise, as she coaxed the newborn to it’s feet. He spoke ” Life is precious these days…if the ALS spreads, life gets much shorter…and if it doesn’t, I might have 10,15 years…and then again, I might get hit by a bus. ” A smile popped into view.
A thought crossed my mind and I took the liberty to share it. ” It seems to me that as your expansive skills start to diminish, due to your physical degradation, your mind will facilitate new and intriguing ways to share your inner self. What might that look like? Are you ready for your greatest work to unfold when you might not be at your perceived best? ” He looked off, thinking, and then shared the gem…the crystal nugget of the richest truth I could hope for…” I want to die the way I’ve lived…fully engaged, exposing and reflecting and sharing the ideas and ideals that make me who I am. ”
( There is no retirement, but perhaps, re-try-ment…embracing what we’ve always longed for and never took the risk. )
He continued, ” I was raised a Christian but I don’t think I am, anymore. But this whole wall of work is based around a text in Matthew…and the woman touched the hem of his robe, that she might be healed. I want my work to be about healing. ”
Slowly, I responded. ” I have some attachment to Christianity, but in all that, I believe this…whomever chooses love has embraced the divine. ” He nodded in agreement.
I asked if I might give him a hug and he smiled. He couldn’t raised his arms higher than my belt loops. It was rich with the reminder…we give what we have.
This song moves me and seems a fitting reminder that life is beautifully diverse and simple, all at the same time.
Lukas Graham, thank you.
Oct. 2017 A Cheerleader’s Halloween
She showed up at my window, with a cheerleader ponytail coming out of each side of her head, wearing a sleeveless t-shirt, gym trunks and tennies. Tattoo’s leaked out onto visible skin and a dog leash hung off of one wrist. “Excuse me, sir, would you please come back a few cars so I can get a few things. I don’t want my stuff to get stolen while I’m gone, especially my computer. Thank you.”
I slowed a u-turn and pulled next to the spunky cheerleader with her arms full of stuff…and come to find out, that leash was attached to a little black dog…Halloween’s version of Toto?
They slid into the passenger side back seat, stuff and dog on her lap. Her destination was merely a mile away. This would be a quick trip. I asked her what she did for work and she said she was an online charter school administrator. I complimented her on her achievement…she didn’t look old enough to be out of college, must less being a head administrator…something about a book and it’s cover went through my mind.
” While it might sound glamorous, it’s not all its cracked up to be. I wanted to be an administrator because I thought it was the best way for me to make a difference. It seems, though, that really I’m just a buffer between the board and the teachers. I don’t know how much longer I can do this. “, she said.
As we continued talking, me stringing together affirmations and her continued angst over funding, educational effectiveness, student care, etc….the back of the car got real quiet. I looked back to see my spunky cheerleader in tears. She looked up in time to see that I saw and began to apologize. I told her it was unnecessary. The authenticity is what makes this job worth it. I told her, ” You make miracles happen every day. Don’t give up on that. ”
We got to her building and I pulled into the bus loading zone, not realizing it was a bus loading zone. We chatted in subdued tones as she composed herself. Then a bus pulled up and the driver game me two raised arms, suggesting that my location was blocking his routine stops. I asked permission from my cheerleader to go around the block…she said, ” Sure. ”
I circled the block and pulled into Plaid Pantry. She apologized again and again, it was unnecessary. She thanked me for the ride and I asked her to keep changing the world. The last I saw was her outline beneath the crosswalk, stuff and dog in hand, heading for the corner bar. She had said she wanted a quesadilla.
It’s hard to know how to uplift a stranger, whose heart shows up vulnerable and ready to share. Perhaps listening is the most powerful gift of all. I hope she stays in the fight. This song came to mind.
https://youtu.be/CevxZvSJLk8 Thanks Katy Perry, for putting courage to music.
Oct. 2017 The Unexpected Lost Sheep
I pray before I drive, usually. I ask God to bring me into contact with people I can bless. I also let Him know that I trust Him, whatever the outcome, relationally or financially…sometimes its hard.
It was 6:30 a.m. and I got pinged for my 4th ride. He wanted to be picked up around 20th and Division. He wasn’t curbside and I saw his computer icon a couple of blocks away, so I called him. We agreed to meet in the middle and within moments he had crawled into the front seat.
He was tired. A lazy smile crossed his lips as I stated my name and said, ” hello. “. He was dressed all in black and his lobes hung loosely where there could be gauges…big gauges. We were off to the bus station. He had had an amazingly engaging evening and now was off to see his 3 year old daughter who lives in Salem with her mom. I pushed into traffic as best I could, but we ended up being 3 minutes late. No bus in sight.
I have this newish philosophy that keeps coming into my mind. Because I believe that Jesus is alive and well, I also believe that He can give me insight, opportunity, etc. in real time…not by a quoted Bible verse, although I love the Bible, but by His influence. If it’s not unbiblical, illegal ( most of the time ), unethical or immoral…perhaps the thoughts that float through my mind are a hint at a deeper engagement.
As I saw that we were going to miss the bus, a thought soared through my mind…” Why don’t you just take him to Salem? “. I pondered it for a stoplight or two and then made the offer. His response, ” Really? You’d do that? ” made me realize that it was the right thing. So we stopped by his house, he got a few things and off we went to the I-5 south.
Time slipped by quickly. He was a musician, played the cello. He had just sold a house and travelled throughout Europe, visiting cool places and taking part in some pagan festivals. I shared that I was a reformed fundamentalist, working on how to bring love into the world. He mentioned that he never quite got the whole sacrifice thing, but he was an admirer of Jesus as well.
When I pulled in next to the driveway I noticed his black, pointed fingernails. I asked how I could keep up with his music and he asked if I was on instagram. He got me to his page while I guided him to my Facebook page. My page is all family and community…his was a combination of his beautiful little girl and words like witchcraft, pan, fear, evil, etc. What!?!
I never missed a beat…I talked about how beautiful his daughter was and how awesome it was that he came to see her every week. He asked if he could give me money and I declined.” It was a privilege to share the journey with you “, I said. He asked if he could give me a hug and I said yes, and it was heartfelt. As he was leaving the car I smiled, waved and headed up the road.
It was a dead end street. I turned around and pulled over. What in the world just happened? I had asked God for the opportunity to bless and then I had just spent an hour in thoughtful conversation with, at the very least, someone with an extremely different world view. Satan is real to me. Evil is real. And yet, God had provided the chance for me to spend heart time with someone who felt differently about those things. Hmmmm.
I love the story of the lost sheep. I think I assumed it was some christian kid who feels guilty for having a beer. Now the perception is much broader, deeper and more painful. I realize now, when he mentioned that he didn’t get the sacrifice, there are core shifts in belief that I haven’t been exposed to, nor do I understand.
I pray for him and his daughter. I shared the story with a friend and he made this sage comment…before he was anything else, he was a human. And the same can be said for me.
Oct. 2017 A Working Man
Initially, I didn’t think he’d be a talker. We said hello as he got into the back of my 2007 Passat Wagon. And then, after the meet and greet, he turned to his phone. But, in a moment, he chose to rise to the occasion and then, it got good.
He was raised in Venice, Italy and came to San Francisco when he was 14, with his folks. His uncle picked them up at the airport and they headed into the american dream. He went to one year of high school and decided he wasn’t learning much…so into the automotive trade he went…he got a job turning wrenches and eventually wound up with his own shop. ” America has been very good to me. ” he said.
He got married and had two boys. One lives in San Diego. He and his wife work for a large tech firm there. They have a couple of girls. The other son, the younger son, decided to follow in his dad’s footsteps…school was not for him. So he got a job in his dad’s shop. Every day, dad would give him jobs that he wanted him to do and over time he grew to resent that opportunity. One day, after the daily job alignment, he said, ” I’m not doing those jobs. ” Dad showed him to the door.
He went home to mom and found some empathy. A couple of years of wander showed up as he worked out what he really wanted to do in life. He made some mistakes, learned a ton and now is doing work up in Paradise…a beautiful house and family.
Dad told me, ” Sometimes you have to let them go to get them back. ”
Perhaps it was just my mind, but I could have sworn I heard heaven say, ” That’s right. ”
Oh yeah, last year dad got his GED…it’s never too late.
Oct. 2017 A Touch on the Shoulder
If you want the full intensity of this moment in time, listen to Richard Page’s -I Wouldn’t Change A Thing before reading. It has the solemnity of these 15 minutes, late on a Saturday night.
Dedicated to 151 and her husband.
She was rider 151. It all started out like a late night usual. The clock swings towards midnight and the pace slows down. I make deals with myself…I’m going to head towards home and if no one pings me, I’m done for the night. Sometimes it works, sometimes sweet moments of connection unfold and tattoo your heart.
I was heading south on MLK, just after the Hawthorne Bridge, and my phone lit up. Someone needed a ride down on Water Ave. I took a right and found myself on a oneway, stops at every intersection and concrete abutments gracing both sides of the road. I hit Water, turned right and in a couple of blocks, pulled in next to the Bunk Bar. I tapped the ” arrived ” button and, a moment later, saw two ladies say their goodbyes. 151 slid into the back and closed the door.
I give her my name, a usual courtesy, and she shares hers. Then she apologizes for not being able to hear well– she had just come from a concert and even though she’d had earplugs in, it was still loud. Then, she talks about her concern for leaving her friend alone in front of the bar. “Crazy stuff can happen in this world “, she said…or something like it. I suggest we go around the block and make sure her friend safely got a ride and she thinks that is a great idea. 3 right turns later and we pull back in front of the bar. Her friend lights up when she sees us, giving that ” what are you doing back here ” look that really means… thank you for caring for me and, really, I’ll be OK. 151 suggests that she just get in with us and that we take her home. She looks at her phone and relays that her Uber ride is just 2 minutes away. 151 insists that she text her when the ride arrives and she agrees.
We head North on Water Ave with me watching the road and her watching a friend disappear into the evening. Out of the corner of my eye I see her settle in for the ride. Small talk ensues as I venture from street light to street light, heading for 84 east. She asks me what I do when I’m not Lyfting folks…there was a pause and I smile…humor gets me… and I share that I teach/mentor Jr. High through High School students. She mentions that she has two kids, 9 and 11 and then there was a moment of silence and before it stretches out and takes over the interior of the car…she shares…here is the elephant in the backseat…my husband passed away a year ago.
Whatever was prepping to come out of my mouth goes still. In a momentary lifetime, I finally say, ” Every day we get with those we love is a miracle. ” Suddenly, she reaches forward and gently touches my shoulder. I am startled by her touch, but her voice is soothing. ” You are so right. ” she says. Her phone lights up with ” I got my ride. ” and the story continues.
He had been diagnosed in 2004 and they fought it, with apparent remission showing up. ” We had 10 wonderful extra years, ” she wistfully smiles. I ventured into my own losses. I share my work with Larry and singing him into his rest. She touches my shoulder in support. I share my dialogue with my friend, Kathryn, who passed away several years ago. We were in her hospital room at OHSU. Her sister and I had been playing music and singing. Kathryn’s outcome didn’t look good. She looked at me and said, ” Kevin, what happens after we die? “. I paused and grace prevailed…” Kathryn, whatever Love would do, is what happens after we die. ” She looked deep into my eyes, nodded and was still. When I share this story, 151 reaches forward and touches my shoulder again. It was as if she knew that a reassuring, I understand, touch would say a thousand times more than what words could try to express. I knew, she knew…the world can be a crazy place sometimes…
I pull over, across the street from her house. I tell her I’ll wait till she gets inside before I leave. She says, ” Thank you. ” I watch her snuggle deeper into her knee length, woven wool cardigan and move up the stairs to her front door. She pauses to wave, then closes the door. I head home, pensive in the losses acknowledged and gently, indelibly touched. And then, I get pinged and off I glide among the night lights and memories.
Perhaps it was my tough second ride that night that set me up for this moment. Perhaps it was just her graciousness and vulnerability. I was just grateful she chose to share her story. Chances are, we will never meet again…Portland is a big place…and I’m not sure I need to…but she was part of a beautiful moment, a connection of strangers who shared their story. It’s a crazy world out there.
Oct. 2017 A Tough Ride
It was rider 143. I pulled in next to her home and within moments she was getting into the car. Her first words were something to the effect that …I don’t have the address but it’s on 5th Ave. I asked her the name of the business and she said it was 5th Ave something…it’s a bar and restaurant. I tried to look it up, but nothing came up. She grumbled and said, ” I guess I’ll just have to go back inside and get the address.”. There was the faint scent of alcohol in the air. I had turned around by then, so I just pulled up into her steeply pitched driveway. She grumbled again about how us drivers were always trying to get close to the door and how foolish that was. Did I mention the smell of alcohol?:-) I was getting second thoughts.
She stomped up the concrete front stairs and when she entered the house I heard three primal scream/yell/snarls…each with added, growing distinctive frustration. I spent the time finding some possibilities and as I was heading up the stairs to her front door, she exited, calling out the address with a noticeable air of disdain. We got in the car and I pulled out after I tried to load the address…it wouldn’t load, of course. So I asked her to guide me through her neighborhood and she did so in very clipped tones. In my mind, I was thinking that I should have just left her house while she was in it and took the negative rating…this was gonna be tough. She finally put the address in her Lyft request and it showed up on my screen. I pulled onto the 205 south, heading for the 5 north.
I’m usually a friendly, chatty guy…but i was frozen. She begin looking for her water bottle which she claimed she put in the back seat and then insinuated that I had done something with it. I never turn music on but I was considering anything that would muffle the opportunity for conversation. I turned nothing on because, if I chose the wrong style, I didn’t want to face more of her wrath… but then thought that silence might make her mad as well…it was 20 minutes of conundrum after conundrum! I let her know we were going to be 15 minutes later than her desired arrival and that sparked another negative outburst.
In the ensuing silence, I kept asking myself how to bring a bit of grace to a broken situation. The only thing that came to mind was…sometimes all you have is silence…and I took it on whole heartedly. I apologized for the difficulties of our transaction and then I shut up. I pulled into downtown Portland and pulled over next to her desired outcome. I wished her a good evening and she scrambled from the car, wishing me the same.
Every time we finish a ride we get a chance to evaluate our passenger. I drove a couple of blocks, pulled over and started stewing, I mean thinking. The easy thing would be to give her a great rating ( 5 ) and just chalk it up to experience. But, then she might treat other drivers like she treated me and that would not be OK. A ( 1 )seemed too harsh, but even though she had paid me a lot of money for the ride, I didn’t want to ferry her about again. I ended up giving her a ( 3 ) with lots of explanations so that the Lyft folks would gain some understanding. Almost immediately I got a response from my Lyft representative in support of my decision. She ensured that we wouldn’t cross Lyft paths any time soon.
The real problem was that she shook up my normally cheery disposition. For a couple of rides I found myself being hesitant to engage, second guessing the dialogue opportunities. In fact, my next riders were a married couple who were celebrating their one year anniversary and her 24th birthday. They were very empathetic as I briefly explained my previous ride and they more than made up any lingering negativity with bubbly support and newlywed enthusiasm. Yet, as i dropped them off, I wondered if I should quit for the night. My Eeyore was kicking in…however, If I had let my feelings lead I would have missed out on one of the best rides so far…ride 151.
Life lesson…never let feelings rule. Have the courage to engage and continue, moving through till you’ve moved out.
Oct. 2017 Three Ladies and a Cell Phone
Last night had so many great experiences. We will start with this…
I had just finished off a robust conversation concerning education and resilience, dropping off the insightful couple at the Nines Hotel and as I was pulling away I got pinged. It would appear my next ride was where I had just dropped them off but I was already down the road. So, meandering my way through Portland’s one way streets, I pull back into where I had just been, but 5 minutes later.
Three youngish ( it’s dark, lets say mid to late 20’s ) women get into the car, happy, friendly and having a lovely evening. The one who sat in front was from Portland and the two in the back…one was from out of town and the other was from China. They were on their way to the Portland Grill, a mile or two away and on the 30th floor…said there was an amazing Happy Hour and a lovely view. We made small talk that was well connecting and when I pulled over on Burnside the lady from China said that the ride had been too short and she wished we could talk more…very sweet.
As they are walking away, and I’m pulling back into traffic, I notice a bright rectangle on the passenger seat up front. Portland had left her iPhone on the seat. I frantically looked back to see if they were in the building yet, but they had vanished. What to do?
I do a quick weave around the corner…no parking…so keep weaving down side streets till I get to a gas station across the street that sells parking…it looks a little dodgy. I find a place to park and try to find someone to share my story with so I don’t have to pay for parking…I don’t make that much doing Lyft:-) The line inside is too long and I see two gentleman standing outside who seem comfortable with their environment. They make eye contact, so I walk over and explain my situation. They give me the nod and say, ” We got you covered. ” I showed them where I had parked and off I went…thinking…I am not dressed for this. I’m wearing a flannel shirt, sweats and my worn down Romeo’s. Come on courage, let’s get it done.
I walk into the lobby, get directions to the Portland Grill and make my way upstairs via the elevator. I step out and it’s the hustle and bustle of a desirable location on a Portland Friday night. I make my way through the bar, 300 pounds of excuse me and purpose. The pass in the bar proved fruitless, except for the apologies. I went back out into the hallway and headed to where folks were in line for dinner and that is where I found them. I walked over and excused myself…ladies, I believe that I just gave you a Lyft ride and one of you left your phone in the front seat. I’m a lot bigger when I’m not hunkered down in the drivers seat of my VW Passat Wagon. They looked up and initially denied the loss. After a quick revisit to their purses, Portland said, ” OMG, you’ve saved my life! Thank you so much! ” or some such thing. I smiled, wished them a lovely evening and headed back for the elevator. There was a line and so I paused for a moment, and by then the ladies had caught back up with me. Portland approached me with some money in hand, and a desire to reward my honesty and pursuit.
This is where I emotionally shuffle and juke my way through my discomfort. As she insists on giving me money I put on my most sincere, hang dog look and ask her, ” Please don’t steal my joy. ” This catches her off guard and I share with her something along the lines of “doing the right thing” and wanting to make my mom proud…although, I did mention that my mom would want me to dress better on these kinds of circumstances. They have me cornered and the Chinese lady is saying, ” Give him a hug. ” I ask them to have a lovely evening, pass on the generosity and they, thankfully, comply.
As they head back into the bar, the elevator opens and I join a lovely young couple for the trip downstairs.
I head back to the car, nodding to the gentlemen who had safe guarded my ride and headed back out into the night…smiling all the way.
When life delivers opportunities, we choose how to engage. I’m glad it worked out the way it did…selflessness is its own reward. I am no saint, but I was good for those 15 minutes and it’s a reminder that I can be good…again.