Monday, August 24, 2009

Goodbye, Mr. Hollis

Saturday afternoon, at a quarter till 2, an old teacher friend and I rendezvoused in a flooded parking lot off of N Howard. We trudged through puddles, resigned ourselves to the now-pending dry cleaning bills, and joined a stream of ebony faces headed toward a funeral parlor. As we found our seats at the back of the chapel, I scanned the faces for the few I hoped to recognize. Our former assistant principal and two secretaries were seated a few rows ahead of us. It was a reunion of sorts, a sober occasion. We had gathered to pay our respects to Mr. Hollis, the head custodian at Lockhart Elementary.

Somewhere between the processional and the gospel rendition of Our King Lives, I wondered why exactly I had come. It wasn’t that I was one of three non-black attendees. I just felt uncomfortable not having known Mr. Hollis personally, while there were so many surrounding me who were painfully mourning his passing. I almost felt disrespectful being in the presence of his mourners without participating in their deep sorrow.

After a few reflections by people who knew him better, I began to realize why I had come.

I thought about what Jesus said to his disciples, the ones who were vying for the highest positions in his coming kingdom. He told them that his kingdom wouldn’t be structured like the kingdoms of men. He told them that if they wanted to be the greatest they had to become the servant of all. That if Jesus, their Master, had come to serve then surely their lives must reflect his pattern.

Jesus’ teaching released me to feel at ease in that chapel. I, a mere teacher whose room was unlocked and whose boxes were carted by Mr. Hollis could share the same space with his grieving widow. Although the only commonality our lives shared was our workplace, my spirit had taken note of this man.

You see, in every mental image I have of Mr. Hollis he is smiling. He’s pushing that huge gray bucket on wheels, with a broom and a mop sticking out, and he’s smiling. There was a humility he had mastered, and it wasn’t due to his life’s circumstances or position. His attitude was like Christ’s—joyful in service and content in all things. Within the world’s system, Mr. Hollis may not have ranked towards the top. But in the coming kingdom, I expect him to be seated close to the King, elbowing the likes of the apostles, martyrs and other unsuspecting servants.

It’s rare to encounter selflessness in this world of me-first. It’s rare to come across a true servant of all. But when you do, it’s only natural to break from life’s routine to stop and reflect on the witness of one of the greats. The world may not recognize him, but my God has.

Until then, Mr. Hollis.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Green on my Mind

Maybe it was the record-setting, highest to-date electric bill we received for the month of July.

Maybe it was the recent visit to the holy mecca of Greener Than Thou, my home state of California.

Whatever the inspiration, I've got green on my mind.

Don't give me too much credit, here. I'm nowhere close to granola-crunching, vegan-cooking, compost-smelling, bra-burning environmentalism.

Yes, I own those canvas bags. And hardly remember to bring them when I shop. (I think Publix has its own Green-Guilt Campaign-- you know what I mean. You're almost out the door, silently swearing you'll remember the bags "next time," when they get you with, "plastic ok, maam?" and then they wait for your answer.)

Anyway, while solar panals and that new Toyota Prius are out of our budget, I'm committing to take some baby steps. And, hopefully, these baby steps will lend themselves to even more.

While we've been replacing burned out lightbulbs with CFLs, I went ahead and replaced all the (8) lightbulbs in our bathrooom with CFLs, since we use it daily. I attempted to redo the weatherstripping on our front door while Neal was out of town (surprise! it's what you've always wanted!). I bought all the wrong crap and now have to emit carbon gases the whole way back to Lowes. So, my efforts are 1 for 1.

I'm also sorting through the black hole of chemicals called Under-the-Sink. I figure I can condense our cleaning supplies down to half the current space and use the remaining half for a recycling bin!! The whole trek to the garage, albeit short, has prevented many an aluminum can from its proper destination. I can't even describe how happy I am about this Under-the-Sink bin. My aunt, who haunts Martha Stewart's dreams, has the ultimate kitchen. She kept true to her San Diegan identity and used recycled broken windshields for her counter tops instead of earth-gutting granite, and has not one, but two hideaway pull-out recycling bins. I suffer a little envy...

While, again, we can't afford this kind of beautiful and extensive shout-out to God's green earth, I can throw (I mean, recycle) away some unused bottles to make room for a more accessible recycle bin.

I figure that the most likely way I'll succeed with long-term ecofriendly habits will be by taking little steps-- accepting that I can't do every green thing, while creatively looking for things I can.

One carbon step back, two smaller carbon footprints forward...

Friday, August 7, 2009

California Withdrawals

I woke up this morning, curtains drawn, windows closed and the only sound coming from the AC unit. Peeked out the window to a white-ish sky, saturated with humidity.


I hoped it wouldn’t happen. I prayed it wouldn’t happen. I tried to mentally psyche myself up so it wouldn’t happen.

But after seven mornings of waking up to cool ocean breezes running through open windows, the sound of water running down a fountain and a gorgeous view of a California canyon, I couldn’t help myself.

I’m in a Florida funk.

I can’t pinpoint what it is that I love about California. To an outsider (my husband), the hills are always dusty brown, the flowers’ colors are muted, and the traffic sucks. For me, on this sojourner’s journey on earth, it’s the closest thing I’ll get to home.

Trader Joe’s, farmer’s markets, hills and mountains, “the 5,” the PCH, the air, the desert flowers, the Mediterranean houses, the eco-awareness, the love of nature, the runners, the cold cold ocean water, the bonfires on the beach, the grandpa surfers, the food, the sunsets over the water, the access to culture, the love of life. It’s all there and it all speaks to me.

I met Jesus in California. When I was little, I used to hike to a special spot near a stream to dip my feet and pray. When I was older, my Biblestudy camped out under the stars on a beach near Malibu. The ocean, the sand, the boulders and cliffs, the trails, the trees, the streams—I’ve met God in those places. Words were whispered, scripture came to life, and a little girl’s spirit learned to dance.

Before every trip back to California, I psyche myself up by focusing on several truths: my family’s here in Florida, my husband and I share ministry here in Florida, we have a nice house, friends, and purpose here. God has richly blessed us and we know this is where he wants us.

I tried, really, I did. To practice contentment. And I was happy to be simply visiting the whole time we were there.

But this morning hit with a vengeance. Like a drunkard’s hangover.

I’ll get out of my funk. I’ll see my friends tomorrow, and I’ll go to church on Sunday, and I’ll see my parents this month and will probably even visit the beach. The humidity will dissipate. I’ll go kayaking and will appreciate the brackish waters and the mangrove trees. I’ll rediscover my joy here, and will thank God for his providence.

For now, though, much should not be expected of me. The afternoon belongs to pouting and cold coffee. California’s a hard one to get over.