Thanksgiving came in a messy but beautiful way for your fellow dying inmate.
How goes your Thanksgiving Day?
Mine started off with a change of plans (something I loathe). To plan can be beneficial. But plans and planning can become an idolatrous obstacle to God’s many marvels.
You see, good friends (and they are lovely) were supposed to pick me up as planned, and they tried, but cars do break down, even on Thanksgiving Day. So do hotel bathrooms, which I’ll get to momentarily. I’m staying at a new hotel since November 1st. To the tune of $49 per night.
Had to leave my job. And then home in late June. It was a conscience thing. You can read my story here.
So when the bad news came today, I thought, Uber for Thanksgiving and “The Crown” on my buddy’s Netflix hookup. Beats political fireworks about how Trump got robbed over dinner!
Thanksgiving for Change
This is my forty-sixth Thanksgiving. The older I become, the more years separate me from my dead family members, and the more memories bubble up on the holidays. This Thanksgiving, I’m surviving somewhere distant from my old stomping grounds, where those I worked with in ministry, my fictive family, reside. I miss them terribly. The year and its social distancing have drained me.
Then raw sewage erupted from the drain in my bathroom. Take a look.
The hotel I am staying in is undergoing lots of repairs. There are plumbing issues, among other things.
I need repairs, myself. My own plumbing around my heart has its issues also, and work is required there as well. But they stripped my health insurance away. And should I become sick with COVID-19, I’m pretty much dead. Consequently, I have kept pretty safe for some time, and I’ve been lucky.
Some may gasp at my use of “luck.” Don’t. God isn’t a cosmic micromanager with a lottery about who gets sick and who stays healthy. God’s not a button-pusher. If that’s your view of providence, you should rethink things.
It Got Better
Anyway, back to the mess all over my bathroom floor. What a messy Thanksgiving—literally. But you know what? It actually turned out pretty well.
God blessed me in my misfortune by introducing me to some great folks. From maintenance came Eddie from Boston, a young husband working through his holiday. He was accompanied by a slightly older gentleman named John. This kind supervisor, someone whom I could tell right away, was decent and empowering, and a leader who leads and serves.
And with them came Pablito. What a wise and kind man, mi hermano Pablito—I’ll talk about him shortly.
They entered my room and set to work. Some jokes put me at ease. I’ve been isolated for some time.
Before they arrived, my head was racing. Are they going to move me to a new unit? What if the place is all filled up? It would be a mission if I had to go upstairs. It’s because I lug around this lazy-boy chair. That and my CPAP machine keep me alive at night. I used to go six days a week to the gym, but times change, and we get old. We get sick too. What am I going to do? I don’t have Coronavirus, but I am far from being well.
Anyway, the work came with warm jokes, and we laughed behind our masks. What a terrible time for a plumbing disaster to happen, huh? Har, har. But they shut the water off. Then they removed the toilet and began to run the snake. Apparently, someone in the next unit had flushed something down they shouldn’t have. Therefore it proved to be a calamity for the old, sensitive system of this hotel.
Nevertheless, these good people put me at ease. As they went between rooms to discover where precisely the problem was in the pipes, I got to chat with each of them. So then a safe space opened. Thus, I learned about them, and them me. We shared.
Thanksgiving for Eddie
Eddie is from Massachusetts, complete with that “wicked awesome” Bostonian accent. He’s a super warm guy. He and his wife are working through Thanksgiving and other holidays, piling up Christmases the last seven years like a week full of Mondays. They can’t afford to get sick or even take a day off. Eddie spent his Thanksgiving Day sweating over my drain and toilet. His hands are more deserving of holding Eucharisted bread than many a priest I know, with their liquor lunches and tyrannical ways.
Eddie and his wife are Catholic. They work Sundays, just like this couple from my old RCIA program, nurses at an ER. That pair told me they had confessed to a young, wet-behind-the-ears priest that some Sundays they couldn’t attend Mass due to work-shifts. The young Robert Bellamine promptly informed them that they would go directly to hell if they died right then. That rightly baffled the two Millennials. Great pastoral work, father!
John y Pablito
The supervisor, John, a native Floridian like myself, put real work into his overseeing. Bishops could learn from John, or any diocesan parish maintenance people if they bothered to come out of their mansions to learn about real pastoring. John smelled like the people he worked with, the smell of work, empathy, and being really present. His story was like Eddie’s. Different, of course, but more similar than not alike. His was just a bit more down the road.
I laughed and shared a little with the other, older Florida man, Pablito, in my broken Miami-305 Spanglish. I wished him “Happy San Givin,” which he chuckled at, knowingly. Here’s a man carrying decades of experience, patience to deal with unending BS from entitled Americans who think their room rental makes them slave-masters.
When these three gentlemen had finished working and cleared the problem, they picked up their tools and towels. John told me not to worry, that housekeeping would be here momentarily to clean up the bathroom mess.
Thanksgiving for Michelle
Sure enough, a woman named Michelle arrived with bleach and mop, bucket and towels, spray, and brushes. Michelle was pure sunshine. The cleanup she gave my place was hard work, but nothing could dent her personality and human warmth.
Michelle’s Thanksgiving lasted only a minute in the early morning—she was sent a photo of her granddaughter from her family living far away. Divorced like me, Michelle works through the holidays. Listening to one another, we recognized that we were both recovering co-dependents. This is a season of self-discovery, we agreed. Sometimes you just throw yourself into the work so much so that you don’t cry, she explained. “If you are anything like me and start crying,” Michelle added, “you may never stop.”
Michelle poured out wisdom and kindness on me while she worked, and made the bathroom immaculate. Then he said, “Happy Thanksgiving!” and blessed me, hoping that I would have a good dinner with family and friends tonight. I thanked her but told her that tonight would be spent alone. She wished me well and told me not to hesitate calling the office if I needed anything. Then she left.
About three hours later, I received a knock at the door. It was Pablito, dressed up in his Sunday’s best, and standing behind him, still in work clothes, was Michelle. They were beaming despite their masked faces.
“Oye, mi hermano,” says Pablito, “I brought ju somesing here, meng. Mi esposa y yo… hope ju like it.”
It was this beautiful Thanksgiving dinner wrapped up carefully in aluminum foil. As she explained, Pablito’s family brought a plate for Michelle and me. So this other Christ named Pablito, left his dinner table and, like a father-figure to me, included me, a stranger, into his family’s love. And it was delicious. Take a look.
Hope your family had as beautiful a Thanksgiving as I enjoyed.