Friday, November 30, 2018

A Parent, A Librarian or...?

I have a question for you, Cris, says Joe.

Finally a hope for a dialogue, I think, Joe’s interruption a welcome break from Cris’ lengthy monologue.

Cris too seems happy to be interrupted. He is shooting in all directions, covering all the bases but it is unclear if anything is hitting the target.  He doesn’t seem to mind the unfinished sentence - perhaps it wasn’t going anywhere anyway.

I am all ears…

Joe lingers. A lot longer than necessary. He looks around and lands his gaze on Cris before he continues,

I have a question for you, BUT…!  He emphasizes the ‘but’ as an absolute point of no negotiation. But I don’t want you to answer me as a parent. Or as a librarian…

He may be looking at Cris but this ruffles MY feathers.

I sense my Defender rising up ready to roar inside my chest.

I am a parent. Parents may not be perfect, but without them, there would be no human race.

I also often say that when I grow up, I want to become a librarian. It could very well be one of the most enviable, noble callings entrusted to mankind.  

I take Joe’s statement as a personal affront.  

What could possibly be wrong with being a parent or librarian?!!! 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Great Shaking

The empty Publix bag in front of me, I notice, is shaking violently. 

Then I see my hands holding the bag, they are violently shaking too.  

Some tectonic plates deep inside are shifting and causing all this trembling. Not liking a feeling of unnerved I reach for the small shovel resting idle at the foot of the pile and start vigorously scooping the dirt and emptying into the bag.

The shaking subsides.

Joe’s gruesome self-disclosure seems to have little effect on Cris. To his credit, he didn’t have much opportunity to respond since Joe continued on with his story, tone unchanged, like he was telling the most hum-drum tale ever told.

Moreover, he said, the Lord likes me so much that he gave me all this money, so much money I don’t know what to do with it. It’s waaay more than I could ever need. He gave me this money and now I don’t know what to do with it. I want to give it away to some worthy cause… maybe he wants me to give it back to him…?

Joe stares at Cris, eyebrows raised, as if expecting an answer from him. An insider certainly has a better grasp on the mysteries of the mind of God and consequently is better suited to guide us through the strange landscape of his unfathomable will. 

Cris takes the bait.

Giving the money to his church would be excellent investment for Joe, since they are involved in so many worthy charitable causes.


The more Cris talks, the more excited he seems to realize the unfolding of the providence’s generous dealings in arranging our little compost pile meetup. 

It all makes perfect sense to him. Joe’s unfortunate fate to catch the bullet with his mouth, his pastor’s sermons, the large amount of money, and men’s purpose in this world – they all fit neatly and perfectly inside Cris’ box. 

He is so focused while explaining all this to Joe, I don’t think his ears even register the harmonizing of his friend’s and my shovel scrape-scrape-thump-thump background music.

Few minutes into the soliloquy, Joe interrupts.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Cris Meets Joe

Cris and Joe exchange a vigorous hand-shake, and just as Joe is about to join his shoveling friend, Cris interjects:

I and my friend here, he points at my crouching figure still holding an empty Publix bag in my hands, waiting for the delivery of the next shovelful of dirt…  we were just talking about the Lord. Do you know the Lord Joe?

Cris is not beating around the bush, and Joe doesn't strike me as 'beating around the bush' kind of guy either. I am half-amused half-intrigued to see how this is going to unfold. I don’t have to wait long.

Lord? Aaaaah Lord! Joe replies, O Lord and I are like THIS – he lifts his hand with the pointing and middle fingers pressed together in inseparable unity. We are like… best buddies.

Cris’ face beams with pure joy. Here we are, gathered together around the compost pile of all places, four complete strangers, worshiping the Lord. Joe’s shoveling friend is included in this community by proxy. Cris hasn’t determined the nature of his relationship with the Lord yet.

Even though it’s quite warm, a shiver goes down my spine. Something about the gesture and Joe’s inflection when he says ‘best buddies’ makes me cringe.

Really?!!?! That’s wonderful!, says my friendly giant, not a trace of guile. I met Jesus five months ago. I love my church! You can come to visit any…

Joe continues as if Cris said none of this.

The Lord loves me so much, I am like his favorite. He gave me gold… gold teeth, see... Joe stretches out a corner of his mouth to reveal quite a sight of dental carnage. He sent a bullet through my mouth on my last tour and saved my life so I can get gold instead of my old yellow teeth.

My heart sinks into my dirt filled shoes.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Meet Joe

I am not in a chatty mood and I feel like I’ve already met my daily kindness quota by allowing him to fill my bags his way - quickly and efficiently.  Still, no point in being rude, so I respond with all the eloquence I have left in me:

Hi Cris.

He must have gotten the message of my downward inflection, because next few shovelfuls happen in silence.

But, as I said, he is a friendly, sincere giant and he can’t help himself:

What a wonderful day the good Lord has given us!

The whole hell may be breaking loose at a different place at this time, and the same might have been true of us in some moment in the past or coming our way in the future. But right here right now I can't argue with Cris. 

The sky above us is a glorious shade of cerulean blue.

Both of us drove to the landfill in our respective vehicles with enough gas to get us here and back.  Enough food in our stomach to have enough strength in our bodies to carry not only our own weight but a loaded shovel as well. 

What more can one expect from life?!!??  

The Lord indeed is good. 

I grunt an affirmative, Uh-huh, reaching for another bag from the trunk.

He sees this as an opportunity and jumps in with both feet.

Do you know the Lord?

It’s a simple, yes or no question, but like a witness in a senate hearing, I find myself fumbling for a simple answer. Saying ‘yes’ sounds rather presumptuous and kind of arrogant. I can't even say that I know myself! 

But I can’t say ‘no’ either.  

While I am still pondering the best way to summarize my 30+ tumultuous years with Jesus, Cris proceeds with his own answer to his question:

I met Jesus five months ago! I am going to the best church in town! Come to visit us on any Sunday! Our pastor is …

His 600wpm soliloquy is blissfully interrupted by another truck that backs up into our pile. Two men in work-worn jeans jump out, each of them with a shovel in hand.

My friendly giant stops both the soliloquy and shoveling, to greet the newcomers.

Hi there! I am Cris.

Hi Cris. I am Joe. And this is my friend…

But his friend is already furiously at work, shoveling dirt into the bed of their pick-up truck.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Meet Cris

A truck rumbles in, backs up into the compost pile. The driver jumps out, slams the door behind him, shovel in hand:

I’ll help you fill up your car, a mound of dirt stacked high in his shovel all ready for delivery.

I look up at the burly giant with a huge smile wrapped around his entire head. It’s the kind of face that knows no strangers – friendly, boyishly sincere and utterly disarming. But I have my own weapons too.

I’m good. Thanks.

It will only take a minute…

This is not a suggestion. And it’s not asking permission.  It’s a statement of irrefutable fact with the loaded shovel to prove it.

No. Really, I am good. I have time. I have a system going… I point at my earbuds and the playlist on my phone.

He tilts his head to one side examining the strange animal with iPhone, a small shovel and time on her hand. The fact that he is probably three times my size doesn’t help my case either.

It’s an unusual standoff.  Two people intent on doing good, no matter what.   

Two people, same goal but vastly different ways of securing how it is accomplished.

It's remarkably obvious that the friendly giant needs to help. All that friendly giant sees is my empty trunk and my tiny shovel. He is a smart giant who puts two and two together. Help needed! His shovel is ready, whether I am ready for it or not. He wants to help, whether his help is helpful to me or not.

What the friendly giant doesn’t understand is that my coming to the compost pile is not only to fill up my trunk with good dirt. It’s a sacred space of reflection and a reliable escape route from my stretched out, stressed out world. I need this reminder of the basics of life. Dirt. Seed. Love. Time. Growth. Repeat. 

I seem to be able to digest these basics only in bite-size chunks. Not a dump truck load, but one small shovelful at a time. 

I look at him again and something tells me that in this very moment, the giant’s need to help is far greater than my need for solitude and whatever escape the mount of dirt provides. So, I stretch out my hands holding the bag and he happily loads it up.

Hi. I am Cris. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Method and Madness

Everybody who comes here means business. We come with what we have - trucks, cars and trailers, armed with shovels, gloves, containers and the determination to get the job done quickly, efficiently and leave.

Except for the scraping of our shovels it’s usually quiet. The sound of silence a therapeutic backdrop for the rhythmic scrape-thump-scrape of the tools.  When I pause to catch my breath and look around, I realize my neighbors are a miniature cross-section of the United Nations. Maybe that’s why we don’t talk – we may not speak the same language! And yet, there is a sense of comradery here, you can almost scoop it in the palms of your hands and feel its weight and texture.  

I wonder what it is about this uncomely spot that melts the barriers and unites us.

Part of me thinks we all are a little (or perhaps a LOT) crazy. Who in their right mind leaves the comfort of their air conditioned home and braves Florida summer heat and humidity to get… dirt???

Of course, as Shakespeare warned us, where there is madness, there could be very well be a method hiding behind. 

I look at my sweaty, filthy dirt-mates with fresh eyes and I see not the raggedy crazies but visionaries of the worlds that for right now exist only inside their heads. But give it a month or two, those visions will sprout and grow, change and transform, from dirt and seed, into a stalk of tomato, a cucumber vine, a daisy and a marigold.

It was on one such day that I met first Cris and soon after Joe and his friend Sam.

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Other Black Gold

I often wondered what it was about the compost pile that marked the turning point?

If you went, there wouldn’t be much to see in that place. Some may say ‘nothing to see at all’.

No blinding glory and no beauty for sure.  Almost an exact opposite of the Home Depot garden center.

The best way to describe it would be a large pile of dirt under the giant canopy of blue sky. That’s it.

Just dirt. Pure, unadulterated dirt.

The Pile lives on the outer edge of the city, just beyond the city limits on the county landfill property. It is located a stone’s throw away from the gated entrance, not too far from the recycling facility, but some ways from the actual landfill where our community stinky garbage is carefully, professionally buried and beautified into rolling hills of Florida.  

Everything that is discarded from the residents’ lawns and gardens – trimmed overgrowth, storm tossed broken limbs, weeds, lawn clippings, fallen leaves, dried out potted plants once given as gifts to incompetent brown thumbs like me – all our ugly, useless and burdensome is collected weekly and combined together into gardening wreckage heaps.  These giant monstrosities are then marinated and slow-baked in the heat and humidity until the magic of time and some fantastic science turn them into the other black gold.  

Once ready, the gold is graciously moved closer to the entrance where it is freely given to any resident willing to come, grab a shovel and get his or her own.