Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Bugwalk and the Father of Bugwalk

This car bumper makes Bugwalk's father look a bit more jauntily curved than he is in real life. Notice how our heads appear a second time at the top of the second photo, not to mention a third time, in the bumper fastener head / retainer bolt head / “round thing.” This is a fantastic photo, if I must say so myself!

(Click photos to enlarge.)

Monday, March 02, 2015

Medical Device Handily Repurposed

Speaking of Sayadaw U Tejaniya, he is coming to Spirit Rock in April to lead a retreat, so of course I applied the minute registration opened, and though it was a lottery, I was sure I was going to get in. I had to! I’m Sayadaw U Tejaniya’s biggest Bay Area fan! But, alas, I ended up #102 on the waiting list. Since the whole retreat will probably be a hundred people, it’s safe to say I’m not going to be there, though I sent the registrar a note asking if person number #102 ever actually gets into the retreat, and she said, “Yes!” and as of this writing, I’m #81, so you never know.

While SUT is here at Spirit Rock teaching, a handful of Western teachers will be at Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts leading a retreat based on his style of teaching. Last year it was the reverse: he was in Massachusetts and Steve Armstrong and Carol Wilson were at Spirit Rock teaching in his style. (Plus I hear from my dharma buddies that SUT is being mentioned at a lot of retreats lately.) Therefore, I could actually just go to the retreat in Massachusetts (which is about a quarter of the cost of going to Spirit Rock—even including airfare, I’d probably come out ahead), or wait until next year when Steve and Carol will likely be back at Spirit Rock, or go on some other retreat at Spirit Rock or somewhere else. Like Hawaii! Or, contemplating those who sleep under the freeway, I could decide that intensive meditation practice is a luxury and go without, in solidarity, at least for one year.

I’d been going to Laguna Honda to volunteer as a chaplain on Saturday mornings, but in mid-January, I started going on a weekday, after work. Bob, the hospital chaplain and my boss there, said he thought I’d find more people in their rooms. It seemed about the same to me in that regard, and it’s more cheerful to be there when it’s broad daylight, and people seemed more agitated and upset in the evening, but Saturdays are probably not sustainable. I don’t want to end up quitting the whole thing, and maybe it’s more of a service if I’m there at a time of day when people are more fretful.

C., who was beaten nearly to death for $60, was celebrating his 66th birthday that week, so I took him a card and a pretty piece of polished amethyst. He was happy because the hospital had given him two hats and a jacket. The latter is orange and looks very nice against his dark skin. He had carefully written out some questions to ask his doctors about the proposed brain surgery. He said he can’t always understand things now—for the first time, I noticed a substantial concavity on one side of his skull, nicely healed over—so he said he would take someone along who could help listen to the answers and write them down.

E., who has necrotizing fasciitis, had discovered that various hard drugs could be shot into the port through which his antibiotics were being administered, and thought that was why he was suddenly being discharged to an SRO in the Tenderloin, or possibly it was his habit of yelling angrily at the nurses. He obviously felt bad about the latter. I could completely relate. I never want to lose my temper with someone who doesn’t deserve it (or even with someone who seemingly does), but sometimes I do, and I always feel awful afterward. E.’s wound needs cleaning three times a day, but they’re only going to send a nurse once a day. He fears he is going to end up dead; it sounds like he knows that drug use and caring for his wound are not going to be compatible. I felt bad for him. I had only one substantial chat with him, but liked him a lot right away.

Before I left, I looked him right in the eye and told him I had noticed three great things about him. The look on his face while I said what they were was very touching. I said, “First, you’re extremely honest. That is an asset. And you have a wonderful sense of humor. That is an asset. And I can clearly see your intention to be kind and patient. Maybe you can’t do it at every moment, but I see your intention.” His friend, an excitable fellow resident, chimed in, “E.’s a good guy.” I said, “I can clearly see that.”

I can relate to getting frustrated and speaking in a harsh manner. I can relate to really, really not wanting to take an action that is self-destructive and discovering that the only thing I want more is to do that very thing. I’m afraid E. may be right that he is now on a downhill slope that is very steep and very slick. I told him I’d be thinking about him, which I will be. Beyond that, there’s not a thing I can do.

Friday, February 20, 2015


Sorry; a bit in arrears here. Here’s a hugely long post to start the process of getting caught up!

At the soup kitchen one day in January, a guest was sitting on a chair outside eating a bowl of soup. On the ground underneath his chair was a second bowl, empty, with some debris in it, likely left by someone else. “Shall I take this away?”, I asked, and without waiting for an answer, I bent down to take it and the guest glared at me, clearly enraged. He said, “Sure, go ahead—Hitler.” Perhaps in the future I’ll wait for an answer.

In November’s chaplaincy class, one of my classmates made an evidently racist remark, which no one, including our three teachers, flagged in the moment. A good deal of angst arose in the hours and days after that class, for teachers and students alike. In December, we had a long discussion about it, but the person who had made the remark wasn’t there, as he had previously arranged to be away on retreat. In January’s class, we were all present and our teachers said the person who had made the remark wanted to say something to us all. That could have been, “There was some unseen racism in what I said—I’m really sorry.” I time that at approximately six seconds, and it would have fixed the whole thing, but instead what we got was about a six-page essay he had written, about some of his own suffering, and overall quite the reverse of an apology, and after he read it to us, he left, though one of our teachers asked if he would sit silently with us for ten minutes before he went, and he did do that.

So then we had another long discussion about the whole thing, very emotional for some; there were tears. That discussion also made it obvious whose sympathies lay where. While most had perceived the remark as racist, some didn’t, and agreed with the remark-maker that he was being persecuted by us, his classmates.

We had done the council process, where each person speaks briefly, preferably from the heart, with no crosstalk: certainly no interrupting, and no responding directly to what someone else has said. It is optional to speak, and we went around the circle three times. By the third time around, most people had nothing more to say, but just in case, we left the “talking stick,” in this case a microphone, in the center of the circle and just sat in silence while we waited to see if anyone would have any further urge to speak. A couple of people did.

While people were literally weeping for the suffering in this world, including that of the remark-maker, I felt quite the opposite, and wondered if there was something wrong with me for feeling judgmental and, in general, for not easily sharing deep emotion in this kind of setting. However, those who were very visibly emotional were in the minority, not that it should really matter, and I decided that how I am is fine. Or, at any rate, it’s how I am.

In regard to not feeling compassion for the remark-maker, I shared that fact, and said that I could see that my mind and heart had snapped shut, and that while I hoped they might soften—I would like my mind and heart to be open to everyone—at the least, I could try to be aware of and acknowledge my reactions.

The day after class, I went to Laguna Honda and visited all my regulars plus a couple of new people, one exceedingly anxious, continually gulping water. Someone had told him he was going to have an appointment that morning and it had thrown him into a panic: What appointment? With whom? When? About what?

C., who I have visited every time I’ve been there, who has had surgery on one eye and is awaiting surgery on his other eye and then on his brain, told me and Bob that he was mugged—beaten nearly to death—for $60, which he would gladly have given his muggers. He was happy to have reached the point, after months in the hospital, where he can walk on his own, just using a cane, and in fact he was moving at a good clip. He looked very steady and hardly seemed to need the cane at all. He told us that the brain surgery, unfortunately, is risky. If it works, it will stop chronic bleeding in his head, but if it fails, it will erase his ability to see and speak. He’s trying to decide whether to go ahead or not.

I notice I’m feeling a bit more paranoid, or more cautious. I find myself more carefully looking both ways before I cross a street, for instance, now that being at the soup kitchen and at the hospital has made me more aware of the many ways life can really get messed up. I’m more aware that some people out there are genuinely dangerous. C. was beaten by strangers; A. was shot in the back by a stranger; another hospital resident was hit over the head with a baseball bat by strangers. Three lives changed permanently, and so many more like them, here and everywhere. I sometimes have bad dreams lately, where I’m in a room full of people with dreadful, alarming problems. I think these arise more from the soup kitchen than the hospital.

In some cases, no doubt people are engaged in activities that bring them into contact with those who incline toward violence, but in others, people may live in crappy, dangerous neighborhoods because of the systemic effects of racism.

Sunday of that weekend, I did my cooking and found myself thinking about a guest at the soup kitchen, H., who so far has tended to do most of the talking when we visit. I was pondering how he obviously wants me to see him as having this and that good quality, and I was thinking that this is because he values those qualities and aspires to have them, and even if he has done the reverse up until now, and even if he fails 90 percent of the time from now on, that very aspiration is beautiful and touching.

That caused me to think about my classmate and how he wants to be seen. Obviously no one wants to be seen as a racist. No doubt he wants to be seen as tolerant, kind, and fair-minded. He wants to feel respected, understood and liked by us, his classmates. Therefore, how excruciating it must have been for him to sit alone at home, listening to the recording of the discussion we had at the December class, while he was on retreat. And what a shame he wasn’t able to hang in there for the emotional discussion at January’s class, which made many of us feel much more connected as a group. Wouldn’t it have been great if he had been there at the end of the day, sitting with us all, feeling connected to us all? And so, voila! Compassion for the remark-maker.

After my epiphany, I sent him this email:

Dear [Classmate],

After you left, we had another discussion about your original anecdote and about the written piece you shared with us on Friday, using the council process—attempting to share from the heart.

It was quite emotional and also made the spectrum of opinions and feelings much clearer. Therefore, it was surprising to me that there didn’t seem to be any residue from this discussion, with people of evidently opposite sentiments visiting in a friendly manner during the rest of the day. By day’s end, there was a noticeable feeling of group togetherness, which I think was due to the more emotional sharing. While I completely understand that self-care required your leaving in the morning, I was sorry you weren’t there. It would have been wonderful if you had been able to share in that feeling. (Which is not to assume that you would necessarily have felt that way if you had been there.)

I must be honest in saying that I still think the original remark was racist; however, I acknowledge that I may be wrong about that. I therefore was further inflamed by much of what you read, though also shocked by the dreadful mistreatment you have received in the past.

However, in sitting with it since then, it became palpably clear to me how utterly excruciating it must have been for you to sit by yourself listening to the discussion from the prior month. I can imagine feeling very, very upset in that situation, and very, very angry. I salute the courage it took for you to come to class this most recent Friday.

Friday’s class made it clear (once again) how much every single one of us aspires to be kind, and how we can care for and feel safe with those whose opinions we couldn’t agree with less and those who have not at every moment acted or spoken precisely as we would prefer. [Smiley face.]

I hope you will be with us in February, and I hope that we will as a group reach a sense of friendliness, understanding and togetherness. Based on Friday’s class, I can easily envision it.

With best wishes,

Lately I have been not listening to music while I cook. Listening to music is an immense pleasure, and I’m sure I will get back to doing so, but thanks to Sayadaw U Tejaniya, I’m now aflame with curiosity to notice just what is happening in the mind in as many moments as I’m able to be aware of it. I doubt I would have had the insight about H. at the soup kitchen and my classmate if music had been playing.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


I recently had my three-years-after-DCIS mammogram and, even though the risk of a recurrence is low, I was relieved to get an all clear. Also, the bathroom off the waiting room was particularly pleasant. It was warm, and smelled of the greenery just outside the window.

(Click photo to enlarge.)

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Best That Can Happen

I have the idea that it’s good to do things on New Year’s Day that symbolize what you’d like your year to be full of. If that’s true, this is going to be a splendid year, but in any event, it was a great day from beginning to end. I got up at 6:30 and did some writing and put up a post here, meditated, had breakfast, did my physical therapy exercises and had an excellent chat on the phone with David and Lisa for an hour.

Then I went for a walk with the friend I walk with from time to time. For about two and a half hours, we wended our way through the Mission and down Market St., coming back via Folsom, talking all the while. We ran into a fellow, known to my friend, who told us about the place where he lives. It was brand-new when he moved in, so no one had lived there before him, and he has his own kitchen and bathroom, and a two-burner stove, and free wi-fi. It costs one third of his monthly “income”—his General Assistance check. That comes to about $265. I was delighted for him. It sounds truly perfect. I wish every homeless person could have the same.

I had two writing assignments due for my chaplaincy class the following week and was starting to be worried about having enough time to get them done, but after I got back from walking and after I had lunch, there was enough time to do a good solid draft of both assignments, and they both ended up being done on time.

Then, on New Year’s Day, it occurred to me I hadn’t talked to Margaux in a while, so I gave her a call and we had a really nice talk, for perhaps an hour. She is a strongly faithful Christian, and I had never understood how that happened, since when we met, at 13, she was a nice little Jewish girl, so I asked about it and she explained the whole thing. It’s entirely due to my chaplaincy class that I was interested in learning about this. It turns out that Margaux was already a stealth Christian when we met. Amazing that it took 40 years to actually have a conversation about it. One aspect of her faith is a very strong commitment to service. Whatever job she has is always well aligned with her desire to serve others, plus she does a good deal of volunteering. She says if things are going well in your life, you should be giving back constantly, giving all you can. That is inspiring, and getting caught up with Margaux was a lovely way to end a very perfect day.

A few days later, I went to volunteer at Laguna Honda. During one of my visits in December, Bob had conversed with a resident solely in Spanish after apologizing for having a rather rudimentary capability (“Tengo pocas palabras” — “I have few words”). When we left the person’s room, he asked me, “Do you think you could do that?”

On my first visit early in the new year, I ran into that same resident in the hallway and did indeed converse with him entirely in Spanish. I’d prepared a cheat sheet that included several of the things Bob had said in his simple conversation. I didn’t have to look at it, but it was helpful as a mental reference, and the resident had to say only one word in English for me. I’m excited about this opportunity to improve my conversational skills.

After I got back from Laguna Honda, Carol Joy came to visit. We went to the Mission Creek Café and played two games of Sneaky Pete, the rummy-type game we often play. We were literally the only people speaking in the café. There were 10 or 15 other people in there, but every last one of them was staring at a laptop. Kind of creepy, like being the only living people in a morgue, until the end of the afternoon, when a man with beautiful long blond hair sat down next to us and asked what we were playing and was generally very friendly. We gave him the printed instructions for the game when we left. Carol Joy always brings them along, because I always have to reread them before we play.

Then we walked over to Hecho, on Market St., a restaurant co-owned by Carol Joy’s next door neighbor in Novato. It was quite loud and, for $24, I got enough food to constitute dinner only because I ate 99 percent of two bowls of complimentary tortilla chips and salsa. In addition, they like to bring dishes out of the kitchen in a large, dramatic cloud of choking chile smoke. The next day, my glasses were coated with a sticky film that had to be removed using soap and water. That’s fine, since I was in there for only an hour, but isn’t everyone who works there going to end up with a horrible respiratory illness? That is to say, I won’t be returning, but what we had (fish tacos and fried avocado tacos) was delicious (if tiny), and I could certainly recommend trying the place once. Maybe bring a discreet gas mask.

I am rereading I Am That, a collection of interviews conducted by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, and came upon his advice to let one’s entire personal life sink below the threshold of consciousness, a rather thrilling idea. He says that we don’t have to think about how to breathe or how to digest food, and that we don’t have to think about a lot of other stuff, either. He doesn’t mean that we would be unaware that we are making a phone call or walking down the street, but that we can let go of the story that generally accompanies our every move. Things will happen without our doing so much conscious management.

Yvonne Ginsberg said something similar the first Tuesday evening in January, when she was filling in for Howie. She talked about noticing thoughts as they arise and not following them to their oft-repeated ends, which simply digs the grooves in our brains that much deeper. When we can notice a thought and let it go (probably most easily accomplished by putting our attention on some aspect of our physical experience, or by just noticing that we’re thinking), we have a chance for a fresh, unconditioned encounter with the world.

She said the best that can happen in any situation will arise from the intention to pay attention. Our very best move is to notice this moment, and this one, and this one. “Let’s see how much well-being we can tolerate before we make trouble for ourselves,” she advised. She also pointed out that we Bay Area meditators are living indulged, luxurious, wonderful lives, which could not be more true.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Let the Invisible Hand Work

Over the holidays, Howie was away, and Yvonne Ginsberg filled in for him for three weeks in a row. The first week, she said that we are actually more powerful when we let go of our defenses—when we are at our most vulnerable—because then we have access to more of our interior resources. I have a feeling that’s going to stay with me. (She once said, regarding impatience and wanting things to be as we prefer, “Let the invisible hand work.” I’ve never forgotten that.)

She also said that the awakening to which the Buddha refers is awakening from the trance of thought. I guess I’d never thought about what specifically the awakening was. Maybe I thought it was awakening to direct knowledge of our cosmic oneness or some such. However, I do believe that any moment when we’re not lost in thought is a moment of enlightenment, so I loved what Yvonne said. Fortunately, the idea of “becoming enlightened” didn’t persist long into my meditation career. I think that idea causes a good amount of misery for some.

On Christmas Eve there was a splendid luncheon party at the soup kitchen, which had been decorated for the holiday. There was a Christmas tree. Instead of standing in line, the guests were served a special lunch at their tables, complete with cake for dessert. Usually the soup kitchen doesn’t serve sweets (or coffee). The executive director had told me they’d have live music, which I interpreted to mean a folksinger with a guitar, but in fact it was a wonderful Latin-flavored band, complete with percussion and trumpet player.

There may be 20 volunteers there for a typical lunch, but on this day, there may have been 80 or more volunteers. It’s a major undertaking, both the preparations and the day itself. I was a busser, and with the surfeit of volunteers, I didn’t have all that much to do. There was one lone, brave woman—tall and skinny, in tight red trousers—dancing expressively all by herself. She saw me tapping my foot and came over to encourage me to dance. I’m not that intrepid, but then I spotted a fellow volunteer, a sweet person who often wears one enormous comical hat or another. On this day, he was wearing a lavender jacket and a huge bamboo hat that came to a point at the top. I asked if he’d like to dance and we turned out to be perfect dance partners. We danced for several songs in a row, and for one of them, the executive director came out and joined the tall woman, so it was the four of us. Very fun.

Then Tom and I drove to Sacramento in dense traffic, four hours to get there instead of two. We and Ann had a lovely dinner at Steve and Julie’s. Steve received Ann Patchett’s book of essays from Ann, which I immediately borrowed. I gave Ann Rod Kiracofe’s latest book about quilts, which is gorgeous. Tom and I slept over at Ann’s and in the morning we all went over to Paul and Eva’s for stockings, and got to see Chris and Kristin, and Sarah and Farid.

The Saturday after Christmas, I made Egyptian Bean and Vegetable Soup from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant, which is delectable. On Sunday, Ann came from Sacramento and she and Tom and I had lunch at Thai Street Food, and then we saw Red Hot Patriot at Berkeley Rep, with Kathleen Turner in the starring role. I never regret going to see live theater, but this show will not be remembered as a favorite. I did get some sense of Molly Ivins’ career, but I don’t know if the idea of using Molly Ivins’ relationship with her father as the framework for the whole show was a good one. It didn’t seem quite organic, and Turner seemed stiff and uncomfortable, even unsure what to do with her hands. Watching her was not a relaxing experience.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Or, if You Insist, The Magnificent Onion and Fruit Organization

My father, who never comments on my blog because he (wisely) declines to have a Google account, but now and then responds to a post via email, wrote me this:

“Did you perhaps intend to write: ‘The Magnificent Onion and Fruit Organization’?”

So might one think, but when I used Duck Duck Go (which does not track its users or their searches) to discover what people would find if they did a search for “mofo,” the final word of the previous post, I came upon “The Magnificent and Onion Fruit Organization.” I had never heard of the Magnificent Onion and Fruit Organization to begin with; garbled, it was irresistible.

At December’s chaplaincy class, we had a wonderful, funny guest speaker. He demonstrated how someone he knows explains the concept of boundaries: Holding his hands a few inches from his chest with his palms toward himself, he explains, “Robert.” Turning his palms outward: “Not Robert.” After class, five of us had dinner at Bangkok Bay, in Redwood City.

In mid-December, there was still no sign of B. or D. at the soup kitchen. A week later, after an incredible amount of rain, I noticed that sun was streaming through a round window near the big stove, and the next time I stepped outside, there was D., giving weight to my theory that he’s the kind of person you only see when the sun is shining. It was a pleasure and relief to see him. He told me about a person he knows who, like him, lives in an RV, but with 12 dogs. His wife, reasonably, lives in a different RV.

That evening, I went to the Civic Center Plaza for the Annual Interfaith Memorial Service for Our Homeless Dead, co-sponsored by the San Francisco Night Ministry and the San Francisco Interfaith Council. Speakers included Rev. Lyle Beckman, Senator Jay Leno, and Jana Drakka, of the San Francisco Zen Center, who does street ministry.

She runs a meditation group at Glide Memorial Church, which serves the homeless. Carlos used to go to the group now and then, and I went with him a handful of times. Jana is Scottish, funny and very down to earth. She came to Carlos’s memorial and gave me a small green Quan Yin figure, which she said reminded her of Carlos’s nurturing qualities. She led us in a loving-kindness meditation at the memorial at the Civic Center.

All the folks who live at Thomas House were there, and they said it was twice as large as in past years. We held candles and listened to the speakers and sang. I was evidently the only person who had to consult the lyrics for “Amazing Grace.” These were people who knew five verses by heart (or all five verses, as the case may be). I didn’t see any apparent homeless people. This was mainly a crowd of those who serve or care about the homeless, maybe 125 such people.

The names of the dead were read at intervals. On the printed list, it said, for instance, “John Doe #6, John Doe #7,” but when the names were read aloud, the speaker said, “John Doe. John Doe.” That was a nice touch. Bad enough to die with your name unknown and no one at your side. Worse to be recalled as “John Doe #6.”

That Saturday I went to Laguna Honda for the second time. I’ve wanted to work at a hospital for a long time, and getting to walk around one with a clipboard in my hand and a badge hanging around my neck might be as close as I’m going to come. I’m thrilled to be there.

Bob has assigned me to the rehab unit (physical rehab, not drug) and particularly wants me to visit residents who have just arrived at the hospital. “Resident” is the term preferred to “patient,” and is appropriate for the 80 percent of the population who will live there always; it might not make as much sense for people in rehab, most of whom will be discharged. I met E., who has necrotizing fasciitis, which he said had eaten through his butt nearly to the point that a bone is visible. He has blazing blue eyes and is a drug addict and fast-talking charmer. We had a lengthy, entertaining chat.

I saw a guy in a wheelchair in the hallway who I’ve seen every time I’ve been there and said, “Hi, David.”

He answered, “Why do you keep calling me ‘David’?”

“Isn’t that your name?”


“Are you sure?! Wait a minute—are you one of those guys who changes his name every two weeks?”

He convinced me his name is F. and always has been. When I saw him again five minutes later, I said, “Nice to see you,” and he agreed, “Always!”

I visited A. again, shot in the back by an unseen assailant and paralyzed from the waist down. He had been issued a wheelchair and was in the dining room, visiting with other residents. His hair and beard had been neatly trimmed—he looked great—and he said he is taking a computer class! Another resident called for a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) to help him open a small carton of milk, and A. wheeled over, opened the carton, and said, smiling, “I can still do stuff with my hands.”

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Magnificent and Onion Fruit Organization

Early in December I made a bonus visit to the soup kitchen because one of my fellow chaplaincy students wanted to see what it’s like there. I thought she might get the best feel for the place if she suited up and did some bussing, and after being warmly welcomed by about ten people, just as I was welcomed on my first day, she put on an apron and plunged right in. After shadowing me for a bit, she went off on her own and bussed like a pro.

I didn’t see B. or D., who I had not seen in weeks. It was kind of rainy, as on many of the days I’ve been there recently, so it may be that D. was snuggled up in his RV. He seems like the kind of person you’d only see when it’s sunny. Maybe something similar happens for B.: if he has a dry spot, he very well may not want to get all his stuff wet. Then again, maybe he is dead, or in the hospital, or has gone to another city. I might never know, and I might never see him or D., again. I know my heart is going to get broken a million times at the soup kitchen. There is an inspiring quote from Viktor Frankl in the front of every issue of The Sun: “What is to give light must endure burning.”

A member of the intentional community that runs the soup kitchen has a friend, G., who comes from New York City a couple or few times a year to visit. G. is 90 and plays the piano in the soup kitchen dining room. He’s a lovely fellow. I got to chat with him at one of the volunteer potlucks. On this day, I thanked him for the beautiful music, and not 20 minutes later, I saw some commotion in his area: something had happened. I was worried that he had had a heart attack and expired on the spot, but it turned out that, as he sat on the piano bench, he had suddenly started to fall over backward. Fortunately, the guest sitting just behind him caught him before he fell entirely to the floor, likely preventing a head injury. The paramedics were summoned and took him away. He was lucid and able to walk, slowly, to the ambulance, but he looked forlorn and dazed.

I got a chance to visit with my new friend, H., a guest who is a poet and playwright. Re Ferguson, MO, and Cleveland, and NYC (and NYC, and NYC) he said he thinks that police officers should not work more than three days a week, given the extreme stress of the job. That’s a good idea. We agreed that if white police officers had African-American or brown-skinned friends, that might help. When we don’t know a single person who is gay, it’s easy to be homophobic, but when we have gay acquaintances, friends, or co-workers, gay people start to seem not so bad. I wonder how friendships could be facilitated between police officers and people of color. I heard lately some mention by a police officer of knocking on every single door in his area and meeting the people who live there. I’ll bet if every police officer did the same thing annually, that would make a profound difference.

The first Saturday in December was my long-awaited first visit to Laguna Honda as a chaplain. I called Bob several days prior and left him a message reminding him I’d be coming, but was fortunate to find him in his office, as he had not gotten the message. Normally he has people shadow him on a few resident visits before they solo, but he had a group of volunteers he had to be with, so he was forced to deploy me on my own.

List of residents lately arrived at the hospital in hand, I went to the rehab unit and met the resident I will likely never forget, simply because he’s the first person I spoke with at length there, just as I will never forget B. at the soup kitchen, the first guest I had a long chat with, on my very first day.

I might also never forget A. because, like the soup kitchen’s guests, he is homeless, and kept out of trouble by “recycling” (picking up cans and bottles with a resale value) in the “TL” (Tenderloin). Two months ago, he was shot in the back by an unseen assailant—the bullet is still in his back—and now he is permanently paralyzed from the waist down. He was at San Francisco General Hospital for acute treatment for two months and had just arrived at Laguna Honda a couple of days earlier. He was remarkably equanimous, saying he must now learn how to live this new life, though he teared up a time or two.

He said that he had made a point of trying to help others get food and clothing, etc., while on the streets, and in particular he helped a certain woman, who, in those two months, had not showed up to visit him. Painful. However, he has a brother in another state he hopes to be back in touch with soon.

After A., I visited with six other residents, including a slight fellow who said money had been stolen from him, ditto his credit card. His medication is wrongfully being withheld from him and he can’t sleep. There’s something wrong with his wheelchair and he wants it fixed. His roommate, C., said it’s been a long month, and here I would deploy a smiley face if this blog went in for that kind of thing. C. insightfully observed that his roommate’s problem is that he thinks he can change everything. As C. and I spoke, I could hear his roommate moaning, “This is a nightmare.”

C. told me he was assaulted and has had to have one of his eyes operated on. Next the other eye must be operated on, and then his brain. The first eye surgery went well and he thinks the second will be fine, too, but he’s worried about the brain surgery, whose outcome is not as certain. He asked for my card when I left. I don’t have one, but I wrote down my name and “Spiritual Care Department.”

At the end of two hours, I went to make a report to Bob, who seemed pleased that I’d visited so many residents. He said next time I can shadow him on a few visits.

Back at the elevator, who should be sitting there but the fellow who told me I’m lucky I can walk, precisely where I saw him before. Near him was another guy in a wheelchair, kind of a country-looking guy, who said to the first, “You haven’t told anyone to go to hell lately. Did they tell you to stop doing that?”

Complete silence on the part of the other party seemed to indicate an affirmative answer.

I got into the elevator with the country-looking resident, who observed, “You’re an interesting-looking person.”

“Because of the big mop of hair?”, I suggested.

“That’s part of it,” he agreed.

More flattering was the resident who, upon passing me in a doorway, shrieked, “Wow!” (I politely said
“Wow!” back.)
And then there was the woman I passed in a dining area who called to me, “You’re a sweetheart! You don’t know how much I love you!” I hope that’s the kind of old lady I will be, or the kind of dementia I end up with.

Back at home, I made a nice document with a table of contents to keep track of my visits with residents at Laguna Honda. I may or may not be a good chaplain, but I’m going to chart like a mofo.