Mere Coincidence?

He died just six hours after we said goodbye. Everyone knew it was coming but he had just been transferred to the hospice earlier that morning. When I arrived in the early evening William appeared groggy. I was not able to make out his garbled words. He responded to my greeting with exaggerated eye movements. I want to believe William remembered me.

We had met earlier this year at a sober home in Saint Paul where I accompany men in early recovery from alcohol and/or drug addiction. Officially my title is “spiritual coach.” The reality is more spontaneous, mutual and relational. William and I hit it off more easily and quickly than happens with some other men. In another context we might have become great friends given all we shared in common.

William had accomplished a lot for a man in his early 40s — a distinguished leadership role with area nonprofits and health care providers, nearing completion of his Masters in Public Administration at the Humphrey School, a beaming father of boys ages 5 and 8. All this, along with his marriage, was at serious risk due his nasty alcoholism.

Anyone who knows anything about addiction understands never to be surprised, to have tenacious hope, but to be realistic about the prospect for disappointment and heartache. That sort of realism has come to temper my relationship with men at the sober home. So I was deeply saddened — but not shocked — when I learned a few months into our companionship that William had “left through the back door”, a euphemism for having relapsed.

I had so hoped it would be different for one so inherently good and talented. That was not to be. I regretted not having had a chance to say goodbye, a chance to intervene and save him from drinking. Yet, I’ve learned the difference between caring for someone and taking care of someone. One is healthy, the latter is codependent. In 12-Step language, each of us — not just the addict — needs to admit our ultimate powerlessness. Let go, let God can be harder than we’d ever imagine.

Yesterday was the first I’d heard anything about William’s whereabouts or well being. His sister, Kathryn, emailed to say William had spoken about our conversations at the sober home with her. She wanted me to know that he was being transferred from the hospital to the hospice. His health had taken a sudden turn for the worse; his liver and kidneys were failing. She thanked me for all I had done for her brother.

Of course, everything in us resists being at the bedside of one dying. So I toyed with the idea of merely assuring Kathryn of my gratitude, thoughts and prayers but preserving a safe emotional distance from the powerlessness of the moment. But I have learned, reluctantly and with much resistance, that life is really quite simple — Just show up! Deep inside my better angel was telling me that nothing would keep me from where I’d rather not be!

William appeared to be sleeping, alone in a room equipped for two. Lighting was subdued. Everything was quiet. His hair seemed more wispy than I recalled; his cheeks and neck looked puffy. My greeting brought a flutter to his eyes and a few mumbled words. He knew someone was there and I want to believe he knew who I was. At least he didn’t seem agitated or restless with my presence.

My goal was not to say anything stupid or inane like, “You are going to a better place.” I thanked him. Reflected back to him what a good man he was, how he generously made our community a better place and how he loved his boys. With my hand gently stroking his folded under a sheet, I told him we love him. He responded with single-syllable sounds and exaggerated eye movements. I whispered a prayer. He responded to the sign of the cross I traced on his forehead with a furrowed brow.

That was last evening. This morning Kathryn emailed to say she had arrived shortly after I had left. She began playing music William enjoyed and he had slipped into unconsciousness by 10 pm. He died quietly shortly before 2 a.m. She thanked me for having shown up.

But there is more, always more. Ruminating this morning about the evening’s events a warm consolation washed over me — suddenly I recalled that last evening was the sixth year anniversary of my last drink. Last evening, unknown to me at the time, I was brought to the bedside of a brother alcoholic. Mere coincidence?

Who did what for whom? Who deserves thanks for all he has done for the other? What is the gift that awaits when we recognize and accept our radical powerlessness, the radical solidarity of our human condition? In morning light I rest in the assurance that William did every bit as much for me as I was capable of doing for him.

I refuse to believe that God is a grand magician who makes such coincidences occur to dazzle, tease or reward. I reject the notion that God is a master puppeteer who pulls our strings to orchestrate human interaction. Rather, I’m convinced that the mutuality of gift that William and I each experienced last evening happens all the time, to all of us, and there is nothing we need do to make it happen. Just show up! Open our eyes!  Recognize the gift of it all and open our hearts to receive. It’s all gift; yes, everything!

“Thank you, William, for the gift your life has been to me and to so many. Thank you for being an occasion for God to reveal the serenity and love to which we are all called and in which you now fully abide. Rest in peace, my friend. Rest in peace! Truly, you have entered through the front door!

_________________

Names have been changed to protect personal privacy. Otherwise, the story is entirely true.

Mustering Gratitude

Everything was perfect… a sunny afternoon in August, the scenic-byway along the Mississippi, light traffic making the drive even more leisurely, blissful solitude. All foretelling my destination… three unencumbered days basking in the silent, spacious rhythms of the Trappist monastery.

Then she appeared — mature, strong, beautiful, lithesome, her stature confirmed in the confidence with which she cocked her head. How can anything so graceful be a threat? How can a creature so singularly at one with her environment possibly be a danger?

It happened so fast, no more than a few seconds. Ballerina legs coming to an abrupt stop. Bulbous eyes signaling fright, foretelling terror. A frantic pause to let the first car pass. Then an impulsive choice amid confusion, an instinctive response to fear, a fateful leap toward her final destination.

A resonant thud was the sole consequence of my desperate efforts to break. In a split second all the mirror reflected was a whirlwind of gray gravel on the far shoulder. A flash of self-inventory overtook the shock of the moment. “I’m fine. Everything’s okay. What’s there to do but keep going? Did this really happen?”

Now, it’s a week later. Perhaps this majestic deer was not a danger, never a threat any more than I am a danger or a threat. Certainly there is a hint of Eden lurking along the Mississippi in mid-August. Places of spacious solitude are there to enfold and refresh us. None of this is of our own creation. It’s all given. Everything is gift, everything!

Each nanosecond before my impact with hard reality has been replayed many times. Yes, I would choose the scenic-byway again. Yes, I’m a good driver — even the insurance company agrees this was simply an accident for which I am not culpable. But ultimately we all come to learn, begrudgingly, that we are not in the driver’s seat.

It’s an illusion to believe we are in control of our lives. That’s not to say we do not have tremendous potential, talent, skill, abilities as well as obligations and responsibilities. But one of the hardest lessons we must learn is that we are not God. Such myopic delusion only leads to exhaustion or failure — a living hell.

Yielding our fates to the impetuosity of roadside deer, even acknowledging our inherent powerlessness, runs the risk of fatalistic resignation or nihilism. Doesn’t have to and it shouldn’t! That’s only the result if we fail to recognize beauty, embrace love and celebrate the majesty of creation — if we choose not to take the scenic-byway! If we fail to see everything as gift; yes, everything!

It’s all so much grander than our puny egos deluding ourselves with whatever we can muster. It’s all so much bigger and better when we yield control, when our most heartfelt prayer ends up becoming, “You’re God. I’m not. Thank you!”

 

 

 

 

An Ordinary and Honest Disposition

Though we’d like to think we are simply ordinary folks and “middle class” by economic standards, the truth is we’re privileged! Simply by virtue of the fact that you are viewing this post defines you as more technologically savvy than most, have the discretionary income to afford an iPad and WiFi connection, and the leisure if not intellectual curiosity to reflect on musings such as these.

Being privileged in these ways comes with a whole set of hazards and pitfalls. Most of us are too sophisticated to fall into blatant arrogance, snobbery or condescension. No, most of us have polished our self-regard into respectable forms of social acceptability. Or, we skillfully retreat to our very own safe-place of silent superiority. An excellent barometer for whether this “fits” may be to ask how satisfied or protective we are of the status quo or self-assured we are of “how things ought to be.”

I’m certainly not immune to that of which I write! My political views are not only well-informed, they are most assuredly correct. I am certain of moral truth and clearly understand what the Gospels teach. I’m even confident in my opinions about what careers others should pursue, the persons they should marry (or not), and how they are to raise children. It’s all quite obvious to us average, ordinary folks!

No, it’s not! Truth does not come easily. Rarely is it ever obvious. Life is hard. Wisdom isn’t cheap. Rather, life has a way of tripping us up, turning us inside out and upside down. As the Buddha discovered, “Life is suffering!” So much for our protective obsession with the status quo, our blissful preoccupation with stocking our pantries and filling our days with gadgets or endless forms of entertainment!

Here’s where the actually poor, those on the “underside” or the “outside” have an advantage over us average, middle class folks. They know their powerlessness. They don’t have the privilege of holding their suffering at bay. They don’t need a 12-Step program or years of expensive therapy to wrestle with the truth of their lives.

No, the poor are not saints any more than the rest of us “privileged” types. They are subject to the same pitfalls, addictions and sins as the rest of us. They simply know better than most that “the way things are” ain’t okay.  This seems to give them an inside track on the truth — we are powerless. Theologically speaking, we are not God — so get over it!

Recently, a man shared with me a heart-wrenching story about the bottom falling out of his life as a result of his abuse of alcohol. We could easily substitute any story about our worlds collapsing or our dependence on “the way things ought to be” crumbling — a debilitating medical diagnosis, floods in Louisiana, the death of a loved one. This man is one of the lucky ones — he readily acknowledges his addiction, his idolatry.

The first step is to admit our powerlessness. It’s the hardest step by far. None of us want to take it. There are an infinite array of ways we distract and divert ourselves into denying this truth. But then, and only then, do we learn how to pray. Then, and only then, do we really learn how to live.

My friend shared his simple prayer with me. I have heard none better: I can’t! You can! Please help! He then substitutes Thanks! for what’s become an all too average and anemic “Amen”.

We would all do well to pray and live more like this extraordinary and exceptionally honest man!

Such is Our Duty

This time of year reminds me of a church discipline from childhood I’ve long discarded. It’s called the “Easter Duty,” the obligation each Catholic has to go to Confession sometime during Lent. In theory it’s a beautiful and sensible practice — preparing for a full-blown, no-holds-barred celebration of Easter.

Fact is, no one does it. I haven’t for years. But something is shifting this year, something feels different, something is quickening deep inside. The desire to again look at the directive, perhaps even to reincorporate it into my spiritual practice, is awakening. As with all new growth, it’s fragile and might be easily smothered.  But this year it seems I’m being urged to take a fresh look.

Numerous reasons might be cited. First, and most significantly, my experience as a “spiritual coach” for men in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction has a profound reciprocal effect on me. Everyone familiar with the 12 Steps knows the critical importance of the famed Fifth Step — that arduous encounter with another human being when we admit out loud the exact nature of our wrongs.  This is done after a fearless moral inventory.

One need not be a rocket scientist to see the close connection between the Fifth Step and the Easter Duty. Both traditions are inspired and come to the same conclusion. An honest, accurate and thorough admission — out loud and to another person — of our moral failures with acceptance of responsibility for the wrong we have done engenders the recovery, health, well-being and serenity we seek. Twelve-Steppers understand such acknowledgement is critical and  essential to their recovery.

So, yes, with restored resolve I intend to make my Easter Duty this year. But something more is stirring deep down within this quickening awareness. It’s as simple as the archaic aphorism that has also fallen out of vogue: “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” In fact, I would amend that to say, “What’s good for the adult male goose is good for the gaggle of geese!”

Pope Francis prophetically leads the way in gestures like the one we saw yesterday. In a monumentally historic statement the Roman Pontiff and Russian Orthodox Patriarch jointly affirmed, “We are not competitors but brothers, and this concept must guide all our mutual actions as well as those directed to the outside world.”

Like every courageous and prophetic acknowledgement of moral culpability and consequent responsibility to make amends, such acknowledgement is easily ignored, overlooked if not denied, and often subverted by powers-that-be.

Yes, I intend to make my Easter Duty this year. I propose the “gander” do as well — by this I mean Francis’ fellow bishops and all church hierarchs (not all of whom are ordained). Even more, “What’s good for us geese has got to be good for the gaggle.”

We will gather as one Body in Christ to celebrate the unmerited grace of God at Easter. What then might be our corporate, collective “Easter Duty”? …a collective, corporate, fearless confession of our wrong doing with “a firm purpose of amendment”?

Unquestionably, a good place to start would be for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to launch and fully fund a truly independent, unhampered and fearless “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” regarding clergy sex abuse. But this is only a first essential step, the litmus test by which we demonstrate our sincerity to enter into the “repentance leading to resurrection” offered us in the Easter Triduum.

In the absence of such resolve by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, there is nothing preventing leadership within local dioceses from embracing an authentic season of conversation, shepherding us through death to life. I can think of no better place than our own Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis for this to begin.

Is not this the repentance God seeks, “to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6). Would this not be a Jubilee Year of Mercy, truly of Biblical proportions?

It is long past time for each and all of us to perform our Easter Duty!

Taking Personal Inventory

“You can take only your own inventory, never anyone else’s!” remains a bedrock tenet  for any who seek the serenity promised by 12 Step programs. I pushed the limit yesterday in my assessment of Archbishop Neinstedt’s appearance in First Class.

Here’s the rest of the story… I had brought Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir for reading onboard long trans-Atlantic flights. Disclaimer: No, I have no plans to write my memoir! Discovery: Karr’s incisive instruction for writing about what really matters offers a brilliant view into how we might better access and express our spiritual lives in prayer or with others.

I had highlighted Karr’s reference to George Orwell’s masterful essay Shooting the Elephant, “You wear a mask, and your face grows to fit it.” Yes, I could accuse John Neinstedt of that. More importantly, I need to accept that truth as my own truth as well.

Speaking of her literary efforts Karr concludes, “No matter how much you’re gunning for truth, the human ego is also a stealthy, low-crawling bastard, and for pretty much everybody, getting used to who you are is a lifelong spiritual struggle … The best you can hope for is to rip off each mask as you find it blotting out your vision.”

How I wish we’d hear such earthy, blunt preaching from our pulpits! I now cringe when I recall how many of my homilies relied upon an array of disembodied platitudes and pious principles — Lord, have mercy!

Why? Why do we retreat to the impersonal and theoretical? Karr observes, “We each nurture a private terror that some core aspect(s) of either ourselves or our story must be hidden or disowned.”

Though speaking of the craft of memoir writing, her wisdom equally applies to our most intimate selves and spiritual lives:

With every manuscript I’ve ever edited — even grown-assed writers’ — the traits a writer often fights hardest to hide may serve as the undeniable facets both of self and story. You bumble onto scenes that blow up the fond notions of the past, or whole shifts in attitude practically rewrite you where you stand.

Karr’s cure for writer’s block — so familiar and feared by any who put pen to paper — applies equally well to boredom in prayer or spiritual desolation. When our faith seems to have withered, even evaporated; when our prayer feels dry, hollow and purposeless; we’d do well to follow her advice: “Ask yourself if you aren’t strapping your current self across the past to hide the real story.”

Now you know the rest of my Neinstedt story. I need to ask myself: What fires my visceral reaction to the Archbishop’s appearance? What might I be projecting onto him that I dare not admit about myself? What is so unacceptable about my own story or life that I so vehemently condemn or seek to control in others?

Yes, it’s time to focus on taking my own inventory! For sure, there are stories to more than fill a lifetime.

___________

Quotes are from The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr, HarperCollins Publishers, 2015, #2276 and 2278 of Kindle edition.

Needing to Knead

My last post already confessed to my compulsion for needing the last word. Yes, that’s a well-ingrained fault that warrants my continuous attention (not always successfully). But there are other reasons I don’t want this site to degenerate into a Twitter-like roster of cut-n-paste stories Yours Truly finds of interest.

There’s a reason this blog is named, Kneading Bread! Watching my mother knead countless batches of flour, yeast and water I learned that her labor was not just about the bread. As growth enabled me to deduce patterns I discovered something quite interesting. On those days my mother chose to bake bread — often indulging a little extra energy really getting-into the kneading, I began to recognize it wasn’t primarily about the bread or our family’s love of her good food!

Yes, this blog enables me to wrestle with ideas and issues of importance to me and topics I believe to be of spiritual and social importance. If it’s not obvious, I “need to knead” this batch of ingredients the world regularly plops in front of us to see what comes of it, to discover what value it holds for our health and well-being.

But Kneading Bread is intended to be something more, more than my personal playground for having the last word or indulging my fiercely defended opinions! No, my purpose would fall short if posts failed to stimulate reflection or provoke the reader to wrestle with your own values, beliefs, convictions, commitments and ways of acting in community. As my mother demonstrated, it’s as much about the laborious act of kneading as it is about savoring the finished product!

She also demonstrated in countless ways that there are always exceptions to any rule. That’s true today. Sometimes you come across a quote that is so incisive, so well-crafted, so true it would be wrong to do a thing to it. Today is such a day!  I can do no better. On my best days, I wish I could say it so well:

We have become a society of machines and business degrees, of stocks and bonds, of world power and world devastation, of what works and what makes money. We train our young to get ahead, our middle-aged to consume, and our elderly to be silent. We are sophisticated now. We talk about our ideas for getting ahead rather than about our ideas for touching God, We are miles from our roots and light-years away from our upbringings. We have abandoned the concerns of the civilizations before us. We have forsaken the good, the true, and the beautiful for the effective, the powerful, and the opulent. We have abandoned enoughness for the sake of consumption. We are modern. We are progressive. And we are lost.

_________

These prophetic words were written by Sister Joan Chittister, OSB. I came to them via my friend Sheila Wilson’s Facebook posting. The only citation I can give is what Sheila gave. It is from Chittister’s book, What Does It Mean to Be Human? In a way, a specific page reference is unnecessary — anything Joan Chittister writes is worth reading!

Not Needing or Wanting, but Doing!

A friend relapsed last week — really sad! He’s burned a lot of bridges over the forty years of his addiction. He doesn’t have many chances left. Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive, fatal disease and it will kill him.

He doesn’t want to die! So why doesn’t he quit? There is no cure for addiction but it can be kept in remission if — and this is a very big “if” — a person abstains from their chemical of choice. Even the best treatment centers in the world have surprisingly high relapse rates. My friend has been to a good number of these centers over the years.

His ex-wife called it quits years ago. His kids, siblings and parents have made it very clear they “just can’t do this any more.” Friends have moved on and no longer call. It’s all very frustrating. I’m ready to throw in the towel too!

A friend much wiser in AA than me listened when I needed someone to commiserate. Arlo admits having “hit a very low bottom” himself and knows of what he speaks. I needed what he had to share. It’s so shockingly simple. Still many never get-it because they live in the delusion that “the cure” is a matter on not taking your next drink — though necessary that’s just abstinence, not recovery!

Arlo retold a story that is bed-rock wisdom passed from one to another in the life-saving fellowship called Alcoholics Anonymous. He grabbed my attention when he contradicted what I assumed to be common-sense. He said, “Most people think the Twelve Steps are primarily for those who need them — they’re not!”

Recovering my composure a bit and marshaling my intellect, I thought I understood Arlo’s point. That presumption was quickly dashed when he continued, “In fact, most people think the Twelve Steps are for people who want them — they’re not!” That was my best answer. Now I’m confused; what’s he getting at?

Arlo explained with a down-to-earth example I could understand. “Say you want to lose twenty pounds. Say you need to lose twenty pounds. You go out and get your bike tuned up, buy new running shows, even buy a membership at a fitness center. You really want to lose those twenty pounds!”

We can want all we want. Fact is we’ve got to log some actual butt-time on that bike, put some miles on those new shoes and build up some sweat at the gym! As my mother used to say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions!”

Arlo drove home the zinger, “The Twelve Steps are for those relatively few folks who do them, actually live the Steps.” Abstinence is simply the prerequisite to get the chronic, progressive, fatal addiction into remission. Recovery happens when we are intent on actually living the spiritual truths of the Twelve Steps.

Too many of us remain obsessed with the drinking part of alcoholism — the addiction still has us in its grip! That seems to be what happened with my friend. He remained fixated on not drinking. As essential as that is, it’s really not the solution!

Only when attention is turned to our character defects, making amends where needed, actually putting our spirituality into practice, and being of service to others do we get our lives back!

Millions need what the Twelve Steps offer. A high percentage of these — even those who attend Twelve Step meetings — want what they offer. Still relapse is all too common, too often tragic.

Yes, I’ve heard the AA truth about our need to “walk our talk.” I’ve even judged others by whether they practice what they preach. When it comes to any spiritual practice “Just say NO!” is insufficient — futile, self-defeating in fact.

“Just do it!” seems to be the wisdom hardest for most of us to understand and put into practice.  Seems to be the hardest part of any spirituality we profess.

Suffer? Good God!

Odds are high you won’t read this post. When you discover the topic you will likely stop and hit “delete.” None of us want to face it. None of us like it. All of us wish it would disappear — but it won’t.

So we stifle it, ignore it in every way we can, pretend it isn’t lurking over our shoulder. Some of us even resort to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate and anesthetize its pain.

(Now would be a good time to stop reading if you don’t want to persevere to the end.)

We are going to Germany for two-weeks at the end of September. My maternal grandmother was an Irish girl from South Boston but the rest of my heritage is German. Not far below the surface throughout what we expect to be a wonderful trip will be a nagging question: How could a people so great and a culture so grand become so corrupt that it perpetrated the horrendous evil of the Holocaust?

We all wrestle with suffering — especially when it is unmerited and random. Why do some children endure such violence and misfortune when others do not? Why does Beau Biden die of brain cancer at age 46? Tornados destroy entire communities and sometimes randomly kill neighbors. None of this makes sense!

I’ve wrestled with the topic of suffering but more often than not simply ignore it and distract myself with my privileged life and bask in my own relative good fortune. Yet the reality nags, taunts and festers at the edges of my consciousness.

Maybe this explains why so many of us shun public transportation. A simple bus ride across downtown Minneapolis exposes a human side of life we would rather ignore or deny — like choosing not to read this post any further and summarily hitting “delete”.  But, don’t!

Last week the New York Times offered a rare but really well thought-out op-ed [link] on the topic of suffering. Titled The Value of Suffering, author Pico Iyer will appeal even to the many who claim to be “spiritual but not religious.”

Too often faith-leaders retreat into conspicuous silence on the question of how any could possibly profess the existence of a good God in the face of such unmerited and seemingly unmitigated suffering. A rare exception is Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, who courageously wrestled with the challenge the horrific Asian tsunami presented to Christian assertion of God’s benevolence. [link]

What gives me courage to finally take on this bedeviling topic, though it regularly gnaws at the edges of my consciousness, was a post today on Richard Rohr’s blog. [link]

His is not the final word — if by that we mean some rational explanation that dismisses all questions or doubt. However, it’s about as good as it gets. Rohr gets about as close as anyone to expressing our “truth” in a way that thinking-people will comprehend.

If you have persevered this far, I certainly hope you are curious enough to check-out the links to the New York Times and Rowan Williams articles above. Even if you choose not to check out these other sites, rest assured it doesn’t get much better than this from Richard Rohr:

Both [saints] Francis and Clare … let go of all fear of suffering; all need for power, prestige and possessions; any need for their small self to be important; and came to know something essential–who they really were in God and thus who they really were. Their house was then built on “bedrock,” as Jesus says (Matthew 7:24).

Such an ability to really change and heal people is often the fruit of suffering, and various forms of poverty, since the false self does not surrender without a fight to its death. If suffering is “whenever we are not in control” (which is my definition), then you see why some form of suffering is absolutely necessary to teach us how to live beyond the illusion of control and to give that control back to God. Then we become usable instruments, because we can share our power with God’s power (Romans 8:28).

Such a counterintuitive insight surely explains why these two medieval dropouts–Francis and Clare–tried to invite us all into their happy run downward, to that place of “poverty” where all humanity finally dwells anyway. They voluntarily leapt into the very fire from which most of us are trying to escape, with total trust that Jesus’ way of the cross could not, and would not, be wrong. They trusted that his way was the way of solidarity and communion with the larger world, which is indeed passing away and dying. By God’s grace, they could trust the eventual passing of all things, and where it was passing to. They did not wait for liberation later–after death–but grasped it here and now.

Two Addicts Try to Talk

“Stop that, Richard! Just stop it!”

Caught completely off guard, I stammered, “What? Stop what?”  Bob had just offered to give me jar of homemade plum preserves.

“When someone offers you something don’t hem-haw around. Don’t play this false humility crap, ‘Oh, I couldn’t…’ or insult me with ‘You shouldn’t…’  When I offer you something, say yes or no. Say, ‘No thank you.’ or ‘Thank you very much.’ Cut the bullsh*t, Richard! Say what you mean for god-sake.”

We had been driving down Lake Street and Bob got us talking about food by recalling what a perfect blueberry pie he’d had the night before — “all blueberries, none of this gelatin sh*t.” We retrieved some mutual ground by agreeing that we shared a special passion for raspberry pie as well as plum preserves.

No sooner had we fed the parking meter and entered Global Market when Bob was back at me.  Bright booths representing crafts from Tibet, Chile, Central America, Scandinavia as well as all sorts of locally produced organic meats, cheeses and fresh fruits and vegetables populated the Market.  An overdose of vibrant colors and distinctive  aromas danced all around.

We shared our delight and personal preferences.  I expressed disappointment that some of the shops were shuttered.

“D*mn it, Richard. Don’t do that!”

“What? Don’t do what?” I blurted defensively.

“Stop looking at the negative! That’s not going to do you any good. Stop commenting about the shops that are closed. Look at all that’s going on, not at what isn’t!  Look at the great stuff inside even if the shops are closed.”

One thing we did not see at Global Market was a good piece of raspberry pie. Here was my opportunity to reclaim some semblance of balance and equanimity after Bob’s piercing — though fair — admonitions!

“I know just the place — Turtle Bread!   We just had raspberry pie there last Sunday. Terrific… the best!” Off we went with nearly two hours left on our prepaid parking meter.

We hadn’t even placed our order when I know I’d scored big time. “Love this place, so much better than the bland, uniform, generically orchestrated Stabucks or Caribou. This place has life, character, personality, distinction.” I relished Bob’s approval.

He continued, “Look around, this is the world! I don’t even feel sorry for those two guys in their white shirts and ties — at least they have the good sense to come to a place like this!”

Though I’ve known Bob for a while now, each time we are together reveals something beguiling and compelling.

I knew about his 70-plus years of struggle with drug addiction. Today’s revelation was his five years in federal prison associated with his drug use.  The transparency of his sharing knocked me off-balance once again.  Of course, I blurted out something totally inept.

“Wow, I’ve never been in prison. So, what was that like?” This time Bob entertained my stupidity and awkwardness but seemed to shift to a wholly different psychic space.

“You learn to mind your own business! You keep your mouth shut. You see trouble, you turn and walk the other direction.”

Ouch! Now, I felt tables turned. Just as he had admonished me about expressing gratitude with a clear yes of no, or had chastened me to celebrate the manifest beauty all around, I wanted to blurt out, “Bob, don’t do that! Stop that!”

I restrained my urge to tell him that is no way to live. This will wait for another time.  However, I returned with a whole new insight into why Bob would be so appreciative of all the Global Market symbolized and for the depth of human connection he savored at Turtle Bread.

We began as two men entering conversation best as we are able. Two men, though with very different addictions, backgrounds, spiritualities and perspectives made an effort to talk — community happens, understanding deepens, appreciation expands.

We discover we are vastly more alike than we had ever presumed or allowed ourselves to imagine.  Still, we each have much to learn that only someone other than ourselves can teach.