Friday, January 3, 2014

Day 54 & 55 - December 24th & 25th

Russell and Mari
I met Russell and Mari outside a grocery store called Basha’s. It was early in the afternoon and I should have been moving out to find a place to camp but instead I was nursing a cup of coffee and watching people flow in and out of the automatic doors. Many wouldn’t look at me for long as if afraid I might ask them for money. Plastic bags holding my recently purchased food pushed out the top of my rig and my clothes were sweaty so I must have looked quite the hobo. As I said I shouldn’t have been complacent to tarry among an urban environment but I was surprisingly unworried. Perhaps I was waiting to become visible to someone. If that’s the case, Russell and Mari saw me. They approached me with questions about my cart and my journey and would I like a shower, a place to sleep? I immediately said yes.
My cart wouldn’t fit in their car but they only lived an hour’s walk away from the store. When I arrived at their home in the middle of a suburban neighborhood I was hot and grimy and they ushered me inside. They showed me their guest room and I set the dull weight of my pack down. I took a long shower, shaved. When I regrouped with them in the living room they fed me chicken and vegetables. I scarfed one, then two plates. And finally we talked. For hours. I had been bereft of prolonged human contact for some time and I hadn’t realized I could miss conversation and people so much.
                Russell has bright attentive eyes and a stocky, strong build. His head is bald and he has a beard. Mari’s eyes are soft and kind and she has a wonderful sincerity about her. They both must be in their 40’s. They are recently married, 6 months, and I was happy to be part of their first Christmas together.
                It quickly became clear to me that Russell and Mari are devoted to God. Dozens of translations of the Bible were scattered about the house. A set of iPod speakers played Christian prog rock. Their adoration of their Lord also carried through in their life stories which they shared with me in the same conversation I gave mine. Before she came to know God, Mari was married to someone else. She had three kids and lived in Iowa. She told me she was a “very sad person” before she met God. Then He told her to move to Arizona. I pressed her here, curious and desiring specificity. “Wait, how did you receive this message? Did you hear a voice?” She said she kept receiving a prodding by an urgent desire to return to Arizona where she was born. So, in pursuit of that feeling, she packed her car and drove to Arizona where she got involved with her church called XP Ministries. She also met Russell.
                Russell used to be a Deadhead.  He was 18 when he followed the band The Grateful Dead around on their U.S. tour. I was agog at the fact that this wholesome, clear-eyed man before me was once a binge-drinking, dope-smoking (among other things) knucklehead bumming around the U.S. He’d been all around the U.S. by the time he wound up in jail at the age of 21 (or 23?). Incarcerated and burned out, he felt he was faced with a choice: go to hell or heaven, which would it be? He chose heaven and turned his life around. He’s worked as a steelwork contractor for 11 years and he’s preparing to quit his job and intern at XP ministries.
                After our conversation, Russell and Mari left to play cards at a friend’s house which allowed me to laze about while consuming copious amounts of Doritos and television. I’ll say this: the couch is a fantastic invention. It allows you to sprawl about with complete freedom. Long after my hosts returned and went to bed, I stayed prone on the couch in the living room and feasted my brain on the torrential stimulation provided by the TV show Homeland (which, by the way, shattered my mind it was so good). At 3:30 a.m. I decided to call it a night.
                The next morning I rolled out of bed—a real bed!—straight into the Christmas morning. Eggs benedict awaited me on the table and I tucked into them with gusto. Then the three of us gathered to read aloud from the Bible about the birth of Jesus. During my stay with Russell and Mari, I participated several times in reading selections from the Bible: The Song of Solomon, The Birth of Jesus Christ, and certain chapters from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. It was a good academic exercise as the Bible is an extremely rich and old text. But more than that, I took a great interest in their religious beliefs because it was clear to me their relationship with their God was a meaningful part of their lives; the human side of the equation is what interests me. He is their omnipresent confidante, their advisor, their best friend.
                Paul the Apostle also became a mutual source of interest for us. In his day, Paul traveled all over the known world by foot and he garnered influence by meeting people and by his writings. In a way, I kind of want his job. Except I don’t understand where or how I should direct influence, should I ever collect it to myself. It was then, during our discussion of Paul, that Russell put his hand on my shoulder and told me God was giving him a vision of me. I was extremely thrilled and intrigued. “Russell, you mean that right now, as you’re staring at me, you can see an image around me? What does it look like?” He described to me an archway positioned on a hill where it overlooked a field. Under the archway a large tome with writing in it was resting. The book means there is something I will one day write or say. The size of the book meant it would take a long time to arrive at those words but the field meant it would have a broad reach. There was a warning embedded in the vision though; the archway was made of wood meaning it was man-made and therefore could be destroyed or reinforced. I interpreted this to mean my actions in the future would determine the fate of the archway and therefore whatever is written in that book. I am not sure what to make of this vision, but I like it if only because it is a way of understanding my intent. I did, after all, explain my purpose to them in great detail the previous day so it’s conceivable that the vision was suggested by our conversation.
                See, it’s a thought like that last one which is impossible for me to avoid. Unshakeable conviction upholds Russell and Mari but I am too beholden to uncertainty. By this I don’t mean to suggest I can arrive at a verdict on whether or not God exists. I hardly know what someone means when they use the word “God.” To doubt is the cleanest act of perception I can perform.  In trying to attain peerless vision, I am trying to allow someone or something the freedom to be many things simultaneously. I practice this by examining myself ruthlessly and identifying assumptions or biases I am projecting which box in ; my thinking is that if I can do this with enough skill and empathy, I can really see something for everything it is.            In this way, I recognize my smallness, my scant knowledge, my limitations as a human being. And then maybe I can act and grow from a position of understanding what I’m truly capable of.
I say this here because there was a point when I wondered if Russell and Mari’s faith caused them to not see something. I had asked them how they knew if a prayer worked and Mari read me a testimony written by one of their friends, Dawn, who “walks close to the Lord.” In the testimony, God drew Dawn’s attention to a woman with a grotesque tattoo of a dragon which ran from the base of her neck to the small of her back. Her mother had apparently forced her to get it and it caused her a great deal of emotional pain. Dawn then felt compelled to place her hand on the tattoo and started praying for its removal, which, according to the testimony, ultimately resulted in the disappearance of the permanent tattoo. I asked Mari if she’d ever seen the woman and she said, “No, but if God exists and he created the universe in a single day, what’s the removal of a tattoo?” I didn’t want to point out that her reasoning was a rhetorical tautology. I didn’t want to point out that they’d said Dawn runs a prayer company, meaning she gets paid to pray for people and other companies and that a Facebook testimony is good business, because I didn’t know Dawn and I wasn’t there to make a hash over what may or may not have happened. Again, I’m more interested in the meaning Russell and Mari derive from their beliefs, not in determining their veracity.
And it was through that meaning which we connected, even if we see the world through different lenses. We found common ground in not putting value on material wealth; they let a ravenous Sam Tidwell have free, unsupervised reign over their home and pantry. Mari gave away her freaking car to someone she said just “needed it more.” We believe it necessary to shed unfounded fears of our neighbors and strangers. I am not the first random person they’ve housed; since they’ve been married Russell and Mari have only had one week in which they weren’t hosting someone else. They are curious, kind, genuine people and they saw me when few others were willing to. In this way, it didn’t matter that we our beliefs arise from different places; our diversity was compatible and this is the unity I am uncertainly, yet unerringly calling for.

I spent the rest of Christmas day in their home. In the evening, we played a deceptively complicated game called Sequence until my uncle arrived at the house to spirit me away to the pulsing epicenter of Arizona: Phoenix.

1 comment:

  1. Great write up, Sam! You're getting nibbles by people and events that are helping you seek this "unity" among us. Keep searching.