I think I lost a friend today. I did not see an obituary in the paper. We were so intimate at one time. We had eternal moments together and thought nothing could separate us but now apparently, they are gone. I did not see it coming and do not know why it occurred. But they are gone. I feel it.
They were here and now they are gone. I feel the lost. Memories are already fading. Memories are so feeble and anemic. But who needs them. We never remember people as they were only as we wish to remember them. And after a while of this misremembering are they even the same person.
I have asked people around me if they know of anyone I have lost. They only look at me with a strange look and say no. But who is this person I have lost and why do they linger inside of me. I think back to the different people in my life and identify if they are alive or dead. As I do that mixed feelings occur of this presence I once had. They say people do not remember what you say or did but how you made them feel. But my memory of whoever this is made me feel all the emotions. I feel detached from the memories but at the same time I feel every one of them.
I wonder if this memory has been replaced by another memory. Is that memory accurate or the former one? If I knew who they were I could ask a friend which is true. Maybe I am thinking of it too much. Some say if you let your mind rest and think of other things it will eventually come to you.
I remember an Italian restaurant I once patronized I had eggplant parmesan. The pleasure of the moment came flashing back to me but I could not put a face to it. I am feeling so many emotions over this person I have lost. My whole life seems to be blended with this person I have forget. They must have been important to me. Was it my mother or a partner? I cannot find the person in my head. It feels important that I remember. But no one around me seems capable of assisting with this problem.
Someone called out a name to me that jarred emotions and concern as if my being was saying do not forget me. Was that their name, Mr. Walcott? I find myself being wheeled down this familiar corridor. I must have been this way before. The assistant stops to open a door I know. I read the sign next to it Dr. Meeks, Alzheimer Specialist.
I was visiting one of the sister communities of Koinonia Farms where I was volunteering. It was Open Door (sadly it closed in 2018) in Atlanta. I was spending my time learning about how this inner-city community worked. At the time after working in an inner-city community as a Baptist minister for five and a half years, I had a certain All-American look and knew how to not be frightening to normal folk. I was having a good time and living as I had for those years in Louisville with the homeless again. Of course, it was different not being the person in charge. Which I found a comfort in.
I served meals to the homeless, help run the showers available to the homeless a few times a week, I attended worship services, and attended classes to educate volunteers about the homeless and community life. I was in my comfort zone. One of the things both the Open Door and Koinonia did was to work with and support another community, Jubilee Partners (they worked with refugees from around the world). They were all a part of what could be called the Overground Railroad that ran in the eighties to offer hospitality and resettlement for Central American refugees fleeing their governments. The catch was Central American refugees were forbidden by then President Reagan’s law to be in the United States. The hypocrisy of this was Reagan’s support of the hardline leaders in Central American made the country dangerous for the refugees. This was why many fled their countries in the first place.
There had been two gentlemen who had come from Jubilee Farms to stay overnight at the Open Door to fly out of Atlanta to the more friendly confines of Canada. Now the Open Door was to try to ‘smuggle’ these two men aboard the plane for Canada where refugee workers were ready to assist them in settling there. The problem was most if not all of the Open Door community members were known faces at the airport for helping refugees making flights out of the country. Reagan had ordered just this week a more stringent enforcement of his law. The community did not know what might await them at the airport. They were afraid of what would happen to the men if their very recognizable faces were seen there in defiance of the law. They needed a fresh face and idealistic young man who would not appear as a threat. Enter me.
I agreed to take the men. Not because I knew how to speak Spanish or knew my way around the airport. But it was something different. The church I ministered at in Louisville had hosted a couple of times refugees on their way to Canada via the Overground Railroad. At Koinonia I had participated with other members of the community to help survey migrant workers in the various farm fields around Sumter County where Koinonia was located. The surveys were to see how many migrant farmers there were in the area what were their needs and how they were being treated. That was my experience with migrants or refugees.
I was given a five minute ‘how to session’ on what to do and their flight numbers. My biggest worry was how to lead these two men who did not speak English through the biggest airport in America. An airport I had never been in. But early the next morning we were off. I was nervous and apprehensive but determined to help these men get on their plane and impress the Open Door partners. As we walked through the airport security guards seem to be everywhere.
The two men who had mainly been in the safe havens of Jubilee Partners and Open Door were very on edge (an international language I understood). We finally arrived at the airlines ticket and luggage desk. I waited in line as they stayed back. When it was my time I walked as confident as I could to the desk. She smiled and I smiled back. She looked over the ticket information. I was feeling confident until she gave me a quizzical look. You are not Jose are you. I explained he was over there and did not speak English and I was assisting him (this was pre 911). She said she needed to see their identification. I explained they did not have an American ID. Now her ears pricked up. I then proceeded with a letter from the embassy saying they had a special dispensation to fly to Canada. Now the letter was not actually legal but it sounded good. She then stated this was not a usual letter and she would have to call security*. I said that was not necessary but if that was needed go ahead.
I was now using all my charm and white man nonthreatening looks I had to assure her it was okay. It was not working. Now I was worried not so much for myself. I could always plea stupidity but not so much my travelers. I took on my most pious look and voice and said, ‘If the airline did not want mine or their business, I did not need to fly with them’. And with a good huff I turned around and left. I gathered the refugees quickly and trying to convey with my body total indignation at the situation walked away.
It seemed as if we passed hundreds of security guards as we made it back to the car. I drove back to the Open Door by around about route (kidding) not to be followed. I told my story they looked and smiled and asked if I was open to trying again tomorrow. I said warily yes. Afterall I was feeling like a failure.
The next day I learned they had called ex-President Jimmy Carter and he had arrangements to secure their flight for them. Carter was a ‘volunteer’ for Habitat for Humanity’ a program started by Koinonia and was apparently willing to work with the communes. They gave me one of Carter’s assistant’s phone number to use if I had any issues.
This time I walked through the airport as if I was on a mission from a President. I would not let anything stop me this time. I walked up to the desk brimming with confidence ready to take on the system. When they saw the names on their tickets they instantly rolled out the carpet. They had a Spanish speaker on site who interacted with the men and made sure everything was comfortable for them. They were on the plane lickety-split. I through my strong advocacy and force of personality had helped these men get to Canada. Or at least that was what I tell myself and others who were not there.
*If security experts notice something that might not be true of security in that era I apologize. It has been a few years. But the story is true otherwise.
Many years ago, I ran into inclusive language and wanted to have it become a part of my daily habitual discourse. Now that may sound easy but as I grew to accept new ways of being my language had to constantly change. But my first public endeavor began in a nursing home.
I was interning in a church’s nursing home program. They had over twenty seminary students interning with them at nursing homes across Louisville. I had been doing it for over a year when they asked me to mentor one of the newbies. He was a lot more conservative than I was. He was much more strait laced and handle himself as a very serious and intense minister. Despite our obvious differences we got along well.
Part of the job was to hold a worship service once a week. I would choose music and a liturgical form for the service. We would sing the ole time gospel songs and I would deliver a ten to fifteen minutes sermon. I loved the music time. Even residents who were not of sound mind, could sing the words of the hymns they had sang throughout their lives. Of course, they could not understand the sermon. I had two women who would often raise their hands and say Praise Jesus or Amen. There were a few others who were from less call and reply traditions who sat quietly but did understand. Out of the twenty plus residents who came seven or eight were aware.
I had recently had a discussion with some fellow wanna-be theologians about the use of inclusive language. The women theologians insisted on the need for justice in language. They were in the habit of counting others non-inclusive language. The discussion was heated and they were convincing me of the necessity of inclusive language. Suddenly one of the older seminarians said in the most prophetic voice, “That he always used the feminine pronoun for God. He would do this because he knew that it would take years of the use of the feminine pronoun for God to balance the scales of justice against the misogynist language that was used in the church for centuries.” Upon hearing this I watched the women theologians and maybe a male theologian swoon and thought one seminarian was getting laid tonight. I was convinced I was using inclusive language from that day forward.
I had a problem. I did not know how to incorporate inclusive language in the nursing home. Finally, Mother’s Day rolled around and I thought this was the perfect opportunity to introduce inclusive language to the nursing home. I thought to myself that half of them never knew what I was saying, my two ladies amen anything I said, and the others would probably not notice. The day rolled around to preach the sermon. I had alerted my mentee of what I was doing. He did not look like he was very supportive of the idea. But he had not seen the women theologians swoon.
The day of the sermon finally arrived. I had carefully chosen the hymns and scripture readings to be as inclusive as possible. At long last it was sermon time. I started off slowly talking about mothers and how special they were. And slowly made the transition to God as mother to all of us. I quickly realized that old habits died hard. God was a nurturer also. His breast gave us the milk of love. And several other times I said he only to quickly repeat myself using the pronoun she. God he/she or whatever I felt myself wanting to say in my frustration. It was by no ways a sermon to break ground on how to use inclusive language
I knew things were bad when my silent but there congregants would give me for the first time quizzical looks. You could tell they could not follow me. Hell, I could not follow me. My Praise Jesus women kept hoping I would say something they could praise but only looked on not sure how to praise such a disaster. I could tell my mentee was quietly laughing inside.
I finally came to a stop and thanked the Mother God for his many blessings he continues to give us. I was glad to be finished. Afterwards I went around the room and shook hands and hugged the people. Usually I would receive good words such as a ‘you preach as good as Billy Graham’. Today that praise did not come. I was only given ‘we still love you looks’ and hugs.
Finally, I left with my mentee. On the way to the car we usually talked about the service and how the people seemed to be getting along. But today he appeared to be following that great maxim ‘If you do not have anything good to say than say nothing. As we shook hands goodbye, I peered deeply into my mentee’s eyes said with a wry grin on my face but in the most sincere voice I could muster,” I need to warn you only professionals should attempt this and do not try this at home”