a teacher and a friend

The old woman in the wheelchair was outside the front door of the building, slowly skittering the chair along with her feet, because old folks’ arms tend not to be strong, particularly ones who stay in places like this.

I asked her if she’d like a push, and she said okay if it was no trouble for me, not fully believing it. I said it wasn’t trouble at all, because it wasn’t. She sort of protested, and I playfully argued it off — “these things are easy to drive around, you just tell me where you’re headed!” Having a guide was nice, too. It turned out she was headed to the same floor I was, so I drove her to the elevator, turned her around inside it, and left her in the open area by the elevators on the second floor. “You’re going that way,” she said, “and I have to go this way. Thank you so much.”

“Okay,” I told her. “You have a good day, honey.” Because I am so Southern it hurts, sometimes.

That was no trouble at all for me. A hell of a lot of work, it seemed, for her. So why not offer to do it?

My mother’s in a place where they do physical rehab for the elderlies, because on the second-most recent hospital visit she fell and hit her head — the nurses at Memorial are idiots — and then at the most recent one, they suggested she do the physical therapy and rehab to improve her mobility, which could use improvement, and decrease the falling, which is what all this hospital business was about to begin with.

My friend John died last weekend; I wrote about him here before. I’ve been thinking a lot about John, or Thich which was his monk name, and the things I’ve learned from him. A lot more than I’d realized I learned, which is something he would have gotten a kick out of: whenever I think about a conversation we had, or something he taught me, it twists around and turns into something new. That’s so very like him; that’s how he was. He’d take an idea, turn it around, tilt it against the light, make it look like something different, and then ask how everyone else saw it.

What color is your mind?

I attended a memorial for him tonight, after I visited my mother; it was a haphazard combination of a memorial and poetry-slam night for Veterans For Peace at a coffeeshop I hadn’t visited in.. oh, a good ten years. I got to meet people I’ve gotten to know online, which was great. Lots of hugging. Activists like hugs. There were show tunes and spoken word and standup comedy; there were stories and remembrances and a slideshow video.

A Tibetan monk, who was here from Boston, told us about how he’d come to his understanding of loss through losing most of his friends and family to Chinese incarceration, then delivered a beautiful chant for the dead. A man with a group of traveling performers from Tennessee led us in a moment of silence, having us call out names of those gone or those alive who we felt we had parted badly from; several people called out names. I called one. A woman John had known led us all in an Indian folk song which is repeated four times; by the fourth, we all were singing along. It’s a powerful thing, though simple, to get a group of people all to do one thing together like singing or thinking or remembering or laughing. We had all of those things.

It was John’s sister Mary who nailed it though; she knew him best of all, though she had no idea how many lives he’d touched. When she went to inform everybody of what had happened, she took his phone and realized there were three-hundred-something names in there. She sent out texts; her phone rang nonstop for the week.

What she said stuck with me because it crystallized what I’d been thinking about him: that he was so kind, and so gentle, and so patient, that he always had time for anyone he met, regardless of color or gender or appearance or anything else, and if he could help, by teaching or feeding or listening, he would. And what she wanted us to do, to remember him, was to do those things: to help, to listen, to give, to people who need it.

The funny thing about that is, she could just as easily be talking about herself.

That is why, when I saw the old woman making her slow way to the door, I remembered my friend and I offered to help. Maybe I can only do small things, but hey, maybe I only need to do small things.

via wikimedia commonsThích Giác Ngộ, John William Missing, thank you for everything you gave me. I’ll miss you. I’m proud to call you a friend.