Conversations at a Bar

He asked, “Is there anyone sitting here?” The place was packed, that’s why I was sitting on a barstool at O’Hara airport, badly needing food. No tables. I saw the previous patron beside me had left upon my arrival. I said to the well-built young man, “It’s all yours!”

The waitress came by and asked, “What can I get ya, honey?” Yes, she used words like honey, dear and darling for everyone. Me too! It must be american-speak for sir or ma’am. He wanted a Miller Light. He didn’t look too happy. “What’s the matter dear,” she asked instinctively? His flight had been canceled because of the snowstorm the preBar_Stoolvious night. And he waited crazy hours in line just to find out that he’d be spending another day in Chicago.

“Ya, it was the worst November storm in 120 years,” I chirped in!
“Ya, it #*%! sucks.” It really wasn’t his day because his afternoon flight had been now delayed too.

He looked at me and after a big swig smiled and spit out a, “Man you’ve got the coolest mustache I’ve ever seen!”
I laughed. “Where ya headin?”
“Japan, going back to the base.”
“You in the U.S Army?”
“Nope, navy.”
“Ah, life on big boats! You get to go down in the subs too?”
“No, thankfully never, can’t stand small spaces. And I hate flying in these little planes. Gotta get boozed up so I can sleep the trip away.” He added a few choice words to describe flying that I can’t write here!

I asked, “Are you of Japanese descent?” For some reason I always enjoy guessing where people are from, but to be honest he didn’t look Japanese. But you never know. “No, I am part Native and part Mexican. Been in the Navy for about seven years! You?”
I answered, “It’s crazy but I was born in Holland and grew up in Canada, though I Lived in Asia for 22 years and now I’m in Paris.”
“Holy ______ Must be nice!”
Everyone seems to think Paris is paradise!

“Ya, it’s okay, but Japan is pretty awesome too! You must like it?”
He said the people were really nice. But he loved Thailand and rhymed off some places he had been, “Pattaya and Phuket.”
Hmmm, I thought, not the most fond of Pattaya, for obvious reasons, but I told him about my love for Thailand, especially the kids.
“Thai kids are so beautiful. I used to raise funds to help kids to get an education. I chaired a board for a charity helping kids born with HIV. I’ve held dying kids in my arms, it changes you. You know kids are the best!”
He said he agreed. Then he added that his own kids and him were going through some challenges. navy life is demanding, but he needed 13 more years total to get a good pension. “I’ll be 39 when I get out!”
“That’s so young to retire!”
“So true, I’ll need to find another job. But the real reason I got to quit, though, is because I don’t know my kids. I am almost never around.”

We talked about family for ten minutes. I told him about mine; five kids! He told me about his three. Two boys and a girl. We both agreed that raising girls was a bit easier for dads! But it takes a lot of discipline to say no to daughters!

Then he looked me in the eye and sadly said, “The reason why I need to go to Japan is that I got a phone call about my son. He’s hearing #@*# voices. He’s all depressed. He needs to go to this special place in Hawaii and get some help. I don’t know what to do!”

I looked at my watch and saw I had to go board my flight. But there was something more I needed to say, to do.

“You know, I don’t think this chair opened up beside me by chance. And I so know that feeling of being a father and thinking ‘how bad of one I am’. But somehow there’s another father I know of who is pretty good at what he does. He’s helped me a lot over the years. And I’d love to be able to ask him to help you in your relationship with your son. You mind if I pray for you?”

He grabbed my hand instinctively and I prayed. I prayed to a faithful Father who knew how broken we, all of us, are. How we feel like crap at times because we just don’t measure up on being fathers. I asked for a real new connection between my new friend and his oldest boy. That kind of stuff and I meant it all!

When I said amen he squeezed my hand tight in his big hand and made the sign of the cross.
“Thanks man, appreciate it. Have a good trip to Paris. I am jealous!”
“You should be!” I laughed.
Fist pumps. Brothers.

I wonder how he’s doing with his boy?

Singing a Prayer in a Paris-diocese.

On the way to the Canadian Embassy in Paris to get my new passport we took a little detour from the regular route and saw a golden cross on an ancient building way up high.  “Cool, lets go and take a quick peek,” I said to Patricia! Knowing how much I love looking at old churches she grabbed my wrist and put it up to her eye level to note my watch and said, “Do we really have time?” We didn’t have much time, but  I responded in a matter-of-fact manner, “Of course we do!”
We lit towards the church and saw a narrow passage, thinking it would lead to some big door to the inside we took it. The door was there, but locked shut. We followed the passage way and entered the courtyardPat'lldaArmeeniane to a large wall painting that caught our eye. I was mesmerised by it.  As I took a photo of Patricia, a young man came out of a door and asked in French, “Would you like to see the church?” Immediately I smiled and asked, “Can we?”

He unlocked the same large door we had passed, turned on the lights and explained how he was a deacon for five years in this church built around 1904. He had a quick smile and a slight speech impediment that kind of made me feel more at ease. He said on Saturdays the place would be packed. We went inside to see gorgeous carpets covering the floor and the altar area, above a single but wonderful basilica style of ceiling.

Then I saw stairs. I see stairs and I want to go up. “Can we?” I asked. And up to the second floor we went, I was disappointed that the organ was locphoto 2 copyked away. So we looked down below, chairs, lots, lonely empty chairs.  And above. Chandeliers. And a majestic fresco of Jesus.

We went down again and entered a small side prayer room. After some more get-to-know-you conversation, I said to the young Armenian man, “Do you want to pray together?” He said, “Oui.” I reached out my hand to pray and immediately he walked out of the prayer room. We followed. He grabbed a book by the altar, flipped it open and then and there without any explanation he sang, in loud baritone voice, an ancient prayer in Armenian. I bowed my head immediately. A holy moment for Patricia and I.  I knew the song-prayer was over when his long ‘Aaaamen’ slowed to a finishing low note. Without missing a beat I knew it was my turn to pray. And so I began my spoken prayer, almost a whisper, and thanked my God for brotherhood made possible by Jesus. I thanked my God for his love for all nations. I thanked the God of creation for the beauty of this young man with a voice thick with passion.

petedaArmenianAs we left through the same door that we entered I said to him, “Thanks for that moment. We truly are brothers!” He smiled largely, “They say there is only one God and therefore we all are brothers.” I thought of the profoundness of that simple faith statement. We are all brothers.

“What Do You See?”

I quickly slipped again into another of the many Catholic Churches of Paris on a weekday. I love that unlike most of the Protestant churches, they keep the doors open for anyone to come and take a look. I often have this compelling to go in, maybe to feel something there, maybe its the ancient history of prayers, tears, community sorrowing and celebrating. Children-All-Nations-These places have been gathering places of great hope for ages. Now Patricia and my daughters, when seeing me dash through the doors of yet another church, must find this a little amusing.  “Do you mind?” I asked Patricia. She didn’t. I walked hurriedly around the outer-court sensing nothing really, but as I passed by one of the last ‘saints,’ a statue of the founding father I presumed, a woman tapped me on the back.

She was about five foot four and maybe 60 years old. She smiled widely pointing to the small cross emblem on the back of my T-shirt and asked in French if I was a believer. I guess she didn’t notice the funny unicorn blazing on the front of my T-shirt! I responded to her smiling face with an affirmative. She then beckoned me to follow and led me to the statue of the priest holding children in his arms.

“Look into his face,” she said. I did. I wondered if at first she thought I looked like the statue with a moustached visage. But I definitely did not! She asked, “What do you see?” I could see her anticipation. After looking again, I responded that the man depicted before us must have loved people, especially children. Her faced glowed at my right answer. She explained to me the virtues of the priest and then wanted to know if I had time to visit other churches in Paris, especially the Miraculous Medallion where the Virgin appeared!

I could have said that I wasn’t Catholic or didn’t believe in Miraculous Medallions. Actually, that didn’t cross my mind as she so graciously was willing to write down all the places I should see and feel God, me a stranger. I simply showed respect to this wonderfully sincere woman and in the end asked if we should pray. “Yes, especially for my children, they have lots of troubles,” she asked. And so for a few moments a tall six-foot-two-accented-man prayed in French for the family of a beautiful white-haired seeker. As I left to go through the doors of that chapel I looked back once more and I saw a glowing smile and wondered, who got more blessed, that woman or me?