Sunday, August 31, 2008

Jack, An Original

Out. Out to dinner with Jack this week. Another of my specific congress. Jack, who the flood has put out of work, out of his work pushing a vacuum at the local HUD apartment building downtown. The building where the blind, the halt, the addicted, and the poor live. Or used to until the flood.

Jack, who just turned eighty. Jack, who used to work with a Pentecostal minister and an alcoholic attorney on the cleanup and maintenance crew down there. Who would trade theological and political insults with these hard-bitten realists. These people to whom life has been a periodic flood.

Jack, an original mystic believer priest who has spent his life looking for God. And of course finding him. Who has spent his life playing the organ to God. Caring for the parishioners with his music. Teaching others the playing of organ music, a music he thinks is the best possible way to make a joyful noise to God.

He and Ethel ran a hotel in their younger years. He recruited students for a business college. Sold organs for a time. She worked in accounting departments here and there. Early,was a school teacher. He was a pastor and preacher. He was a pastor’s assistant. A vagabond also. A man who also has moved around. An odd job here and there to keep body and soul together so that he could keep playing. Keep making. His music to God.

A man who when he plays gets a sense of God with him. God around him. All through him. A man who is rich in God’s presence.

Son of an alcoholic. Son of a self-made man who managed the electric utility business of half a state. Who had no college. Who read technical books at night to keep up. Who had Ph.D. engineers working for him and had a hard time keeping up. Who had no use for a son who was not interested in engineering. A son who majored in English and organ.

Who this week starts volunteering at the elementary school next door to his apartment building. Something to do. Since there are no actual paying jobs around here anymore for somebody like Jack. What with the flood and all the businesses closed. Fifth graders, he says. He’ll help a fifth grade teacher. A young girl not so long out of college.

When he was in school, the teachers were all old women. Old women who said he wouldn’t amount to much, some of them. Women who weren’t allowed to get married, if they also wanted to teach. But now they have young ones. That’s certainly a difference. Certainly a difference that he could like.

Something to keep from getting old and worn down, he says. Something to get him out of the apartment. Something else to do in addition to his interminable solitary walks. Something to occupy the mind and spirit after almost three months now that he’s been out of work. His janitorial work, his literal and figurative cleansing work. We’ll see, he says. See how this goes.

Jack. Who has left much behind now. Who has lost his son first to Vietnam. Then to a wife. Then to their children. Just like any father whose son grows up. And away. Lost his wife, which was the hardest thing. Her dying was like being shoved into another universe where everything was pain and suffering and evil. Lost all his family—parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and so forth—to death, except the one sister he rarely sees and who has diabetes. Has barely kept alive with it in another state. The smart one. The Phi Beta Kappa. Who married an attorney turned elevator manager. Grain elevator manager who died. Oh. Years and years ago now.

Jack. Who has left behind his youth. Who has left behind much pleasure. Who has left behind a life he built. A life that’s largely disappeared now, as far as he can tell, like a refreshing rain that ran to flood and now has disappeared in the dry time. The summer’s end time. The high cloudless sky time. Of the year.

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