Sunday, November 7, 2010

Communion of Saints


Sunny crisp fall day. Marathon Sunday. No way for our eastside folks to get across on this day. I remember my own five new York City marathons. How getting five boroughs under your feet makes you feel like the city is yours. It’s been a few years. I look forward to having the time and space in my life to do it again.

And today is the day we celebrate our saints. All who came before. What they left us. And today we start our senior survey. It’s a project of Manhattan Together, our IAF faith-based community organization. We’ll use the results to develop our citywide agenda. First time I ever filled out a senior survey with my name on it. P_____'s being evicted. Have to deal with that. She asks me what’s salvation. I tell her she’s a child of God, with the presence of the Holy Spirit, one of Christ’s own. “But am I saved?” she says. “Yes,” I say. She’s got a secret, she tells me. The Holy Spirit shows her what’s going to happen before it does. Even with her demons--and angels.--she’s able to make it. But If she loses the apartment....

Inside the church, I look around. Remember all those I’ve known here who are gone. Marietta, Eric, Carmen, Dorothy, Adham, Arthur, Keith, Almena, Irene, Samir...I see their faces, where they sat, who they were. I look up at the shepherd window, remember how during the AIDS crisis so many died here, how one man restored and rededicated the window for his lover Steven, seeing him held in Jesus’ arms. The two pastors who preceded me, dying with broken hearts each in their own way. The portrait of the Rev. Dr. Mc Alpin, slashed with a knife. I agreed to its removal, wondering about his restless spirit. I feel their presence. All these saints.

Outside, there’s food containers. Remains of tomato and lettuce. Someone had a meal here. I wonder if someone brings the food and leaves it. I set up an outdoor altar with bread and wine (well, concord grape juice) and a Bible.

A woman traffic officer asks if she can use our restroom. I tell her the water’s off. We’re trying to get it back on. Soon, I say, soon.

Later, I’m finishing up. No one else around. Ready to leave. And there’s Tracy. He asks if he can have a blanket. Says it was freezing cold last night. Said he had a metro card and rode the buses awhile. Then tried to sleep. Someone called 911. He went to Lennox Hill Hospital.

I tell him I’ll look. Go back inside. Get him an old blanket. And an aluminum thermal wrap, like they give to the marathon finishers. “Look,” I say, “You deserve better. But this is all I got.” “It’s enough,” he says. “You don’t need to be on the steps,” I say. I look in my bag, offer him some bread. “Nah, this apple’s enough,” he says. Then I know what to do.

I go to the convenience store. Buy a cold bottle of grape juice and two coffees with cream and sugar. I return. “Tracy, “ I say, “will you do me a favor?” “Sure,” he says. “what’s that?” “Sit awhile on the steps,” I say.

So we go to the front, the steps. Sit in front of the gates. “I know you were a preacher,” I say, “will you share the Lord’s supper with me?” “I will,” he says.

I recite from the days’ gospel,

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.”

He punctuates my words with “yes, yes...”

And I say the blessing for the bread, pass him a piece of pita. Then the wine, pass him the chalice with the cold grape juice. His hand shakes as he drinks deep. Then I drink too. “That’s good,” he says. I pray for his safety, protection. And then we recite the Lord’s prayer together. “I haven’t prayed the Father’s prayer in a long time,” he says.

Then I pull out the coffee. “Here you go,” I say. “With cream and sugar”

“How’d you know?”

“You told me one time.”

And we talk. “ I had a good life,” hesays, “a god position. I neber saw that ending.” We talk. Of Los Angles where he lived for 18 years. From age 23 a foreman at Occidental Petroleum and a Pentecostal preacher. Married a Mexican woman. Built his own house. Raised four boys. Then the plant went to Costa Rica. His wife left. Came across country to see his first grandchild in the Bronx. Knocked on the door. No one there. One thing leads to another. Five years later...

By my math I figure he’s a little south of 50.

As we talk, i see runners, marathon finishers, walking up the street, wrapped in aluminum like baked potatoes. Some

heading to Popovers, one riding in the back of a pedicab.

“Look, I gotta get a half pint of vodka,” he says. “I’m shakin’ too much.”

I ask if he’d ever done rehab, or detox. Tells me he was sober for eight and a half months. Living in a program. AA meetings daily. Then his worker left. The new guy “didn’t know” him. “It’s irritability did it,” he says, “i got irritable. Blew it all. I’m kickin’ myself.” Says he’d like to go back to Los Angeles. His wife’s mom would take him in. Or his in laws. “I raised those kids” he says. I ask where his own are. “Ohio, Indiana, I don’t know...”

Tells me he loves this city. And hates it. And it gets cold.

“Say,” he says, “ I could do some work here. Put some men together, help out..” “We’re working on that,” I say. I tell him I need to go. “Thank you for sharing the Lord’s supper with me,” I say, “you’re part of my family of faith.”

“I’m honored,” he says, “Proud. Well, you’re not supposed to be proud about religion. But I’m proud.” We shake hands. I head up Amsterdam. The sun is so bright, it almost hurts the eyes.

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