There is a recording on my phone. It is from March 11, 2020, starts at about 11:00 a.m., and lasts 37 minutes. Looking back, I realize this is the last time someone walked into my office, took a seat across from me and shared a part of their story. I could not have anticipated that less than a week later, we’d find our doors closed, an international ban on embrace, and a complete deployment of the Church.
The person on this recording is our dear Friend, John. Over the years, John has shared his music, his presence, and his walk with recovery. He has also shared the breadth of human emotion and has given many of us the gift of learning to be with. Praise God.
On occasion, John can shout back with the best of them, but for the most part, he is a deeply sensitive, soft-spoken soul. He is particularly quiet in this recording and tells stories in his unique way; completely abandoning linear timelines and changing plots as he sees fit. I dig it. It’s also had me confused as to how I can plate this conversation for the reader. This is not a full-course meal. It will have to be served up a-la-carte and a bit disjointed. I do believe it’s enough, though, to leave one feeling full.
John takes a seat at my desk. I know what to do when this happens. Close my computer, shift my focus, and enter into relationship with the Child of God who has come to visit.
John reaches into his back pack and brings forth one salt shaker and one pepper shaker. He uses them to describe bi-polar disorder. I completely follow his analogy. He slides the black container closer to me and says, “People always ask why I’m so nasty and mean. I say, ‘because I don’t feel good right now.’” I want to write this on a post-it note so I don’t forget. If someone’s acting nasty, they probably don’t feel good.
John reaches in his bag again. Harmonica. G. “Why do I carry this everywhere?” he asks me. “It’s like it’s a talisman or a pacifier or something. I can’t go anywhere without it.” Talisman. What an incredible word choice.
“How is Soleil doing?” John asks. “How is she doing since the death of Kyle?” John is referring to my daughter and the loss of her step-father. I am moved by his remembering of names and details. “She is good John, thank you for asking.” “You know,” he says, “that’s a lot for a little person.” “It is,” I agree. “Do you know how you help a child from getting a broken heart?” he goes on. “You grab them close and you hold them and you just tell them it’s going to be alright.” I swallow rocks and think about everyone who was never told ‘it’s going to be alright’ and I feel like I’ve just discovered the singular source of every addiction, ailment and anxiety.
“You know, the first time I met your daughter, she saw me here at Haywood Street as this homeless man. Long beard. She smiled at me and she said hi to me. How did she know how to trust me?” John’s blue eyes fill up with tears. “She knows what is good,” I respond. “Is that what you and Kyle taught her? Is that what God taught her? What is God?” “God is love, John.” “How do you measure it?” “I don’t think you can.”
John and I sit through extraordinarily long pauses without any discomfort.
“John, why do you think people get so attached to things like harmonicas and Mustangs?” John thinks. “Same reason they get attached to people. Like my friend, Melinda. You know how stupid I felt when I missed the funeral of the person I cared about the most? Pastor told me I was handling the death well. That’s only because I’ve done this so many times.”
John pulls his wallet from his back pocket. This is the last thing he wants to show me. It is attached to a silver chain. “I’ve always wanted a wallet chain like that, John.” “This? You’ll never believe this. It’s a dog chain I just cut down and attached to this hook. I’ve been arrested so many times over these last few years. Cops always take my wallet…” John trails off. There are about six minutes-worth of audio I’m not sure how to translate and then I ask if we can take some photos outside.
I’ve read that where the synoptic gospels tell us what Jesus did, the Gospel of John tells us who Jesus is. When I listen to this recording, I feel like I’m listening to the Gospel of John. The ambient noise is that of desperation, joy, and hope. You can hear shouting from the lobby. There is someone snoring outside my office, exhausted from the effects of Meth, or rather, the effects of no more Meth. In this modern-day parable, our Friend John has come to show me who Jesus is; to remind me that the body of Christ is not just leavened bread. It is the one who has taken a seat, who is showing me their few worldly possessions, and who is demanding I hear their story.
Photos & writing by Brook, HSC Lead Storyteller