Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sixth day in Lent: Thanks for small victories

Norma lives two blocks north and around the corner form the church.  Sofas and chairs with the traditional plastic covers. Walls filled with family pictures.  Her daughter Kelly died on Friday, March 4th.  This fills me with sadness, both for the loss and due to wrong numbers, etc., that I didn’t know until yesterday.
I had known her death was imminent. On New Year’s Eve, her sister had called and asked me to do “last rites.” I’d tried to explain that we were protestants, and she said, “Yes I know but we’re latino.” In our neighborhood, the lines between latino and catholic are blurred. So I called my parish priest, and my colleague Katherine, and did some online research and went and brought oil,did prayers and anointing. It hurts deeply not have been there at the end.
The pain is multiplied for Norma because years ago, her only son died at a very young age from cancer. She feels  especially close to Hope because she was the nurse for her son at that time.  I remember my hospital visits to Kelly. Her strong spirit as the cancer spread throughout her body. And I remember that night, the gathered family, her teen aged daughter Brandy, now moved to her aunt’s in Hackensack, her estranged daughter Christina in the service in Texas and her son William.
I especially remember William. Norma recalls William and Brandy running all through the church, and smiles. I had seen William last night. He’s part of a group of acrobats and gymnasts that work as part of the New Jersey Nets NBA “hype team.”Just back from a trip with the team to London.  My son Dan and I had watched, big screen closeups  and all, in the Prudential Center, the Rock, as William did flips and somersaults across the basketball floor. And at halftime as he bounced off the trampoline to do high aerial twisting dunks. I smiled, knowing that he’d been introduced to the trampoline in the West-Park gym. By Rudy.
All of us are mixed bags. But this much can be said, a generation of inner city kids had their lives turned around in that gym. William got his job with the Nets through Ecko, another of our gym kids who credited the program with “saving him.” I see William, almost 21, strong, muscled, handsome and flying through the air.
Norma shares her grief. Her memories. Her smiles.We pray together in English and Spanish.  We will find time to go to the cemetery in the Bronx together. Yes, this is a season that focuses on mortality. ...From dust you come and to dust you shall return. 

I open the doors to find a circle of orange traffic cones cordoning off a section of sidewalk under the scaffolding. The location scout from Warner Brothers is sitting on the steps. “Hey man, I was just calling you,” he says. They’re painting a portion of the scaffolding green so it will disappear when they shoot at Barney Greengrass tomorrow. It’s a new film, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close with Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. Adding to Barney’s resume of TV and films shot in their classic interior. 
He’s got a proposition. Needs a day for holding, for restrooms. I sadly say that they’re not ready yet. We lose again. They’ll be back in early May. Can we be ready then? He really likes us, wants to use us. I ask him to remind me of his name. “Robert,” he says. “Good name,” I say. “Yeah, same as yours.” He smiles. OK.This has gone on long enough. We need full court press to get that boiler going, now. Everything else depends upon it. 
P_____ calls. The day will end with her in housing court. Accompanying people with no money to court is like descending through Dante’s circles of hell. Her madness is no match for the labyrinthine and kafkaesque way the system treats the poor. We race from attorney to notary to courthouse trying to beat the deadline. Outside her courtroom, two Spanish women approach me anxiously with legal documents, asking me to explain what’s going on. I read the papers over and over. I can only understand that they are on the wrong floor of the court hosue. “Me siento mucho pero no me intiendes mas,” I apologize as I try to get them in the right  direction. 
I catch up with P_____. I have no idea what I’m doing. But somehow, we succeed in getting her eviction postponed until June. Three months to file a brief. Where can we find an attorney? She’s trembling with excitement. “My stomach was shaking all the way," she says. “When I kneel in prayer in church, people think I’m crazy. But Jesus is all that I have. He told me you would help. And you did. The spirit led you. God did it” I give thanks for small victories.

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