Sunday, December 19, 2010

It's about being human


Coming to open up the church for the second day of the crafts fair, there is George encamped on the steps again. Milk cartons, bags, a whole temporary home around him. I wonder how to handle this. I tell him that there’s going to be a lot of people coming through soon. “I know he says. The crafts fair. Sounds good.” Who knows, maybe the signs attracted him.

Later in the day, Marty will walk by. “Reverend,” he says, “ the Irish always say top of the mornin’ to you....and the rest of the day to yourself. You always need a story like that, “ he says. “You know, my father said that Solomon was the wisest man of all time. But then the demons tricked him. But maybe you don’t know about that?” he looks at me quizzically with his “Popeye” look. “So are you worshipping in there this weekend?” “Yes,” I tell him, “ yes.” “That’s good,” he says, “that’s good.”

George sits like a silent sentinel in his doorway.

Slowly the fair and festival comes to life. Some of the crafts people are disappointed in the size of the crowds. We’re getting traffic, though not as much as expected. Some are concerned. Judith asks me if I can do anything about the man on the steps. I go talk to George. He’s pretty trusting and open with me these days. I don’t want to mess that up, it was hard to get to this place with him. He asks me if this is going to be an annual event. I say I hope so. He talks about a church on the Eastside that used to have a crafts fair every year. They'd hire him to do security. He’d love to do that. He would only want $25-30 a day. Not the answer Judith was looking for.

The day’s music festival arranged by Amanda is everything I could want it to be. There’s Ron Bousso’s traditional folk music and Mandola Joe’s mandolin. Justin Robert James brings his own songs and voice that takes me back to Stan Rogers. Peter Galperin’s another father and AYSO soccer coach just like me and a good singer as well, the Cornell Brothers Washtub Band brings a sound of Americana. It’s a truly eclectic collection of mixed genres. Today the musicians are facing out into the sanctuary instead of the theatre. The whole fair is their audience.

At 3 PM, Kim Uwate, violist from Manhattan School for Music performs. She somehow found her way to our congregation’s life in the basement of SPSA and became part of our community, sharing her music in worship and even “talent shows.”We all went together to hear her senior recital last year. Her solo performance finishing with Bach silences the sanctuary and draws applause. She smiles when I say that some people asked if she had cd’s. She’s our only classical performer.

I share a popover and a conversation with percussionist extraordinaire Greg Beyer. I first heard him reciting from Brecht’s Galileo while accompanying himself on flower pots years ago with the cutting edge West-Park Chamber Society led by Erasmia Voukelatos until she got married and became a mother and moved to Jersey City. I’m glad I got to do the marriages both of Greg and Ersasmia. Greg has worked countless times in this sanctuary with me interpreting scripture through percussion. Greg has said that percussion is not an instrument but a way of expressing our experience of the world. He’ll be with us tomorrow.

Late in the afternoon, the Times band brings their own style of reggae to warm up the house in the cold,late hours. I look around the sanctuary and see people everywhere dancing. A long dreadlocked artist is dancing with an older woman. My church members  have left our food concession and come to the balcony to check out the music. The place rocks. “One Love,” “Superstition,” “Beast of Burden” and more.

Some people came to shop and stayed for the music. Earlier in the day, our City Council Member Gale Brewer arrives. She’s been showing up for West-Park a lot these days. But we need more press. (And more money.) Ted talks to her. She calls New York 1 News. They’ll be showing up tomorrow.

I look outside. Our young security man Jamaal has been sent to deal with George. Instead he’s been sitting there for hours enthralled. He looks up at George like he was  a griot. Occasionally I hear a word..”Israel..,” “white man..,” “all was fine until..” I would love to hear this dialogue. Occasionally folks bring George sandwiches and hot dogs from inside. One older woman tells me how she worries about him but that his “white man” rants scared her at 5 am on the way to the pool. (I’m glad he made the pee bottle disappear when I asked him, although with a smirk sent my way. He plans his outdoors sojourns well.)

Later I talk to Jamaal. He tells me that it was an interesting conversation. Affirmed a lot of things he’d already thought. But then he tells me, “Look, I was raised a Muslim, became a Buddhist. I believe that what goes around comes around. It’s not just the white man. it’s the atrocities we’ve all done to one another. It’s about being human.”

My West-Park members have put in a long day at our food concession with hot split pea soup, sandwiches, hot dogs. Arcadia and Hugo and Hope and Marsha and the whole Martinez-Santiago-Ayala family has put in endless hours. Because they believe in this process of trying to come back, to come alive again. Samantha and Brandy have been selling my late mother-in law Pat’s pottery that was donated to the church.

I’m glad to see that Rachel has made it out of her house with her healing hip replacement and walked all the way over here from 87th and Columbus.

I’m happy to see old friends. And at the end of the day my family. All come to be supportive. Including my three musician sons and my wife’s uncle David Sear, a folksinger, radio host and journalist and lover of all kinds of music. They’re here to hear Erin Mc Dougald whose jazz set closes out the day with a classy touch. It’s like an intimate club in a small sanctuary. My bass player son Micah watches her bass player with interest and respect. Judith says that despite all, it was a good day. I say to Hugo that we don’t have much money but we know how to give people a good time. He laughs. A valuable time. A time that says who we are.

It’s time to lock up and go home. As the last musicians leave, I look and see George on the steps. Wonder if he’ll be there tomorrow.

This is my story. I wonder what the others’,from a different perspective, point of view, focus, might be like.

It’s about being human.

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