Yesterday at the Breakfast Club at St. Thomas the Apostle, Hollywood, one of our patrons stood at the door of the kitchen and called my name. I was over at the stove grilling up onions, broccoli, and kale as a side dish to our eggs, hash and pancakes. I got someone to take my place and went out to talk to Ron, who has been frequenting our Breakfast Club and church for many years now. He is in his mid-50’s, bald, clear-eyed and articulate. He was holding a yellow bag with Amoeba records written on the front in black lettering. “I got this for you,” he said, waiting for me to open in. Inside was the new CD, “Best of Judy Collins,” with her hits, such as Both Sides Now; Someday Soon; Chelsea Morning (single version); Turn! /To Everything There Is a Season. He told me that she would be performing in LA in August and thought I’d want to know. “Thanks for this,” I said, “but I’m afraid I’ll be out of town when she is performing. We are due for another Texas trip. I’m sorry to miss her.” He nodded. “Too bad. I think it’ll be a good concert. It’s a great venue.”
From there, I went and spoke to another of our frequent visitors, a man named Wayne. “How are your daughters?” he asked when he saw me. “How are the grandkids doing?”
Another old-timer came up after the breakfast and pointed into our church kitchen which was renovated about a year ago. “The kitchen now has a patina. It is filled with all the good energy that you and the other volunteers bring to it.” I hadn’t heard the idea of patina described exactly like that before. “That was a sweet thing to say,” I said. He smiled. “It’s the God’s truth.”
I never thought when I started volunteering at the Breakfast Club fifteen years ago that I’d make friendships with some of our homeless patrons that would last for a decade and a half. I thought we would see these people for a few months and then they’d get their lives together and stop coming. In the case of these three men, they are not homeless per se. They rent cheap rooms in downtown rundown hotels and stay for a while until circumstances shift and they need to move to another room or the street for a short time before finding yet another hotel. Still, I’ve known them for at least 10 – 12 years since they come twice a month to our breakfast. Ron is from LA originally, but doesn’t have any relationship with his family; Wayne is from Wisconsin and keeps thinking that he’ll eventually move back there. The third man, I don’t know his name or any details about his life, but he is always good-hearted with a ready smile. There are a handful of other patrons who fall into this category. I know their faces and maybe even their eating preferences (no salsa, but lots of catsup) and we have been seeing each other over these past many years. Who knew that would ever happen?
One time, several years back, I took Rachael and a friend to eat in a restaurant in Hollywood. When we came out, one of our Breakfast Club patrons was standing at the corner. “Len!” he called out and came over to hug me. I hugged him back. I turned to Rachael and her friend and said, “This is John. We know each other from St. Thomas.” Rachael didn’t look surprised, she had come to the Breakfast Club enough herself. But her friend’s eyes grew wide. She was not used to seeing one of her friend’s mothers embracing a homeless man.
I don’t know what the moral of this story is. I suppose it is at least in part that friendships are forged in unexpected places and that longevity often brings a level of familiarity that is comforting despite other unfortunate circumstances. Also, these friendships have mutual involvement. Both parties bring caring to the table and from there, we are able to connect on a level that transcends social-economic/life differences.
I suppose it sifts down to the age-old recognition that it is more blessed to give than to receive since in the giving, one receives blessings a hundred-fold in return.
I am looking forward to hearing my new Judy Collins CD. Thank you, Ron, for my gift. That was very kind of you to think of me.