Saturday, August 11, 2012

Like is this seasonal?


Edward is sprawled out in the steps. An empty 40 by his side. Edward, man, you got to go. He looks at me, pulls himself up, walks away. The place is a mess. I call Teddy. He’s picking up some things for Martin at Home Depot. And it’s someone else’s turn to clean. Storm clouds brewing. 

Allegra comes in. It’s the last day of her internship at the Interfaith Center. She’s planning a program for other Princeton students in the fall. To explore religious diversity. And what in various traditions inspires faithful to service for others. And wants to involve the students in service when they come. 

We talk about the difference between service and advocacy and various types of organizing. Why I’m partial to community based organizing. Ideological driven campaigns define others’ reality. Charity programs of compassion do for. Even advocacy intends to speak for. I like the Freirian model where people are to become the subjects of their own history. Making, articulating their own destiny. Building community with others.

Talking to Allegra, I realize that my principles are rooted in theological assumptions. Can I define them? How would they be different for Jews? Muslims? Hindus or Buddhists? How do we carve out space to work together?  And I talk again how interfaith is a way of life, a way of being. And we’re still working on defining that. How it works out in concrete terms. And where do you draw lines? What about Falun Gong? Scientology? Unification Church? On what basis? It gets too complicated. In the end, what I want to do is work with my neighbors. Maybe that’s where it begins. We’re working on an agenda, a working itinerary for her group when  they come. I’ve got more than a few ideas. I look forward to their coming. 

The rain has started to fall. Heavy and hard. I check the steps again. Teddy’s son Ted has been cleaning things up. Then I see it.  The shit. The newspapers. And my heart sinks. Is this like seasonal? Like every August, Edward returns and I have to deal with this again? Teddy comes out with buckets of water, pine sol. He’s taken care of everything but the wasted newspapers. Bob, he says, the rain can take care of the rest. Oh the paper? I’ll come back for that. Just had lunch. I’m gonna lose it. 

‘S OK. You’ve done enough. Get me the rubber gloves. And I do my part. And like Teddy, almost lose it. Like an annual ritual. Even with the help I’ve got now, this is where urban ministry begins. Amazing how many of my colleagues responded to my Facebook post about this last year. 

One of the other neighborhood characters, an old white guy with glasses and a wide eyed vacant stare walks up and begins to sit down. Uh, that’s not such a good idea, Teddy says, not there, and he moves on.

Later in the day, I see Edward sprawled out across the street in the CVS doorway. Charlotte by his side. She’s looking fairly together. New black glasses. Charlotte, I say, you’ve got to do something about Edward. He’s in bad shape. 

He’ll be findin’a place soon, you’ll see...she says. 

That’s not it Charlotte, I’m worried. He’s in pretty bad shape....she looks at me nods.  Marty’s nearby, waiting out the storm. Marty, I say,howya doin? But he just looks at me with that look of terror and noncomprehension. Obviously in one of his episodes. Teddy had the same experience with him yesterday.  

I cross back over. Arcadia has come in with granddaughter Victoria, the bubble girl from the wedding just back from Orlando with stories of Sea World. 

I need to get to my wedding, a Chinese-Spanish affair at the Central Park Boathouse. The rain has stopped. Later I’ll join Teddy and Ted and Martin’s daughter at Flor de Mayo, one of the Upper West Side’s last remaining once ubiquitous comidas chinas y criollas restaurantes. We'll  share some food. Some sangria. The kids will take off, after Teddy’s fatherly admonitions. We walk back to the church together. The steps are quiet now. 

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