This is a deep holiday, for inner silence and reflection on the Passion of Our Lord.
At least, that’s how it was meant to work.
One Orthodox friend from Ethiopia fasts from all animal foods for 50 days before, and takes only one small meal at noon and a little bread and tea at night, and no food or water from Thursday through Saturday midnight.
Orthodox friends from everywhere else spend Holy Week at church every night. On Friday they’ll show up early to clean the church to a shine, fill it with flowers, and lay out the bier and embroidered tapestry for the candlelight procession all around the block.
The Catholic friends fast after 3:00, pray Stations of the Cross, and attend Tenebrae and Tre Ore service. Then they remove the flowers, drape the altar and crucifix in black, put out all the candles, and go home in silence.
I spent my Good Friday in a parking lot, sharing a pound of roast beef and a rotisserie chicken.
It started out with me, on the way to church like everybody else.
And there in the parking lot of Family Grocery was a frail looking elderly man. He was weeping hopelessly in the darkness, and cried out to me asking for a little food, anything with protein in it.
I ran in to the deli for a package of sliced roast beef.
Another woman leaving the store just ahead of me handed him a rotisserie chicken wrapped in foil.
The man was sobbing over his lost childhood on the farm in Nebraska, and grieving that people here in the city were so cold and uncaring. It took a good half hour for him to calm down enough to ask a few questions. He didn’t really have a narrative that we could figure out, except that his home was a basement of a house a couple of miles away.
The woman turned to me. “I can drive him home,” she said quietly. “But I’d rather not go alone. Will you come too?”
So we drove him and his little plastic bag of meat back to his basement. By then he was singing with happiness at being home with some roast beef and chicken to eat. We wanted to knock on the door and ask the owners of the house to check on him, but he wanted us to just drop him off and go leave him be.
Church was over by then. I set out for home.
At Family Grocery, they were just closing up shop for the night. The manager was in the parking lot rounding up some shopping carts. He said “I hope that old gent doesn’t end up sick. He’s been here three times today. People bought him roast beef, three rotisserie chickens, Italian hot sausage, and a side of ribs.”
But that was last year.
This year I was all ready to keep a devout Good Friday night at home, by reading Orthodox services and an Akathist prayer before bedtime. By 10:00 I’d finished all the pre-Sabbath chores. There was only the compost bin to take out of the freezer and carry outside.
10:00 is late for taking out compost. Because at that hour, the raccoons are running around outside. They are smart enough to catch on any day now that Mary + punchbowl = Home Delivery! Still, the anticipation of a really tidy kitchen for Easter weekend sent me out the door with a heap of trimmings.
It was windy, and cold. There were stars, and a bright planet. Venus or something.
With a careful look around (raccoons?) I stepped in to the little chain-link cage with the garbage bins inside.
I was tossing in scraps when somehow the light shifted. I looked up.
Right behind me, blocking the enclosure door, was the silhouette of a tall strong looking man watching me in silence.
“Why HELLO there!” I sang out in a hearty voice.
“They oughta have a light in here.” His voice sounded uneasy. “A person could fall down, and get hurt.”
“You are so right. Look! It’s brighter out there. Let’s step outside.” I ushered him out to the main driveway.
“The light burned out over our stairs. It was dark. I fell down, and got hurt. They put me in the hospital. Tomorrow they are moving me away.”
Luckily, that clues me in. Now I know exactly who this man is. Word is, our neighbor’s dear Uncle Adam had a bad fall on the dark steps. While he was in the hospital, the family found him a nice assisted living apartment nearby, all on one floor. He has wonderful relatives who will see him every day. He’ll be fine.
I walked him home on the other side of the complex.
At the top of the stairs outside his door, in the light of the new bulb, he talked in a shy but determined way.
He laid out for me all the moving plans. He outlined in conscientious detail the type of nuts and bolts holding his bookshelf together; he removed the bolts and set them aside safely in one place, because you really can’t re-assemble a bookshelf unless you have all the bolts. He described all the different storage containers, their shapes and sizes, how he had organized each one and selected which items to fit in where.
“That’s spatial intelligence,” I said. “You can probably look at a car trunk and picture exactly how things will fit in. I can’t do that. I certainly can’t assemble a bookshelf with a lot of nuts and bolts.”
“Over the years, I have moved many people over the years,” he explained. “Furniture, and all kinds of other belongings.”
But now tomorrow would be something new: he’d stand back and watch while other people moved his things instead.
Listening to him, at one point I wanted to say “Gosh, nice to meet you but it’s late and I’m freezing with this metal punch bowl in my arms.” But, I didn’t. Because this was witnessing a massive shift in a human history. That shift will happen to me one day, and sooner than I might expect: from living in one’s own home independently, to a new and totally different chapter of life. It was important to listen to Uncle Adam. He was setting a good example on how to make that transition in an organized, determined, dignified way.
Outside his door he shook hands with me. “I am going to leave you here, and go bring you a present. I want you to have it. It’s brand new, never been opened. From the Angel of the Winds.”
I stood out in the cold as the minutes went by, wondering when to assume that Uncle Adam had many more pressing matters to tend to than some stranger he found at night in the garbage cage.
Finally he opened the door, and gave me a white gift box. “It’s brand new, never been opened. I was a winner. I won. It’s a gift, from the Angel of the Winds.”
He went inside, for his last night in his home, and closed the door.
I walked back to my studio, washed the bowl, and put it away.
Now I was too cold and too tired to read my favorite Akathists. Once again, I really hadn’t kept the feast.
I changed into warm clothes, and sat down with a little tea and sobering thoughts about the seasons of our lives, and the changes that they bring. Sometimes suddenly, and for reasons as small as a light bulb.
But wait, what about the gift?
The box felt heavy. I opened the flaps and took out a seamed styrofoam block.
I eased the seams apart, then untaped a lot of bubble wrap. Then tissue paper.
It was a glass globe. A crystal ball, but full of water and glittering confetti. The glittery bits splash up and sparkle when you tip it. Like a Christmas paperweight with Baby Jesus and family living inside, but instead there was a miniature replica of a grand looking building and a sign: “Angel of the Winds: World’s Friendliest Casino.”
To honor Uncle Adam, I gave it a sparkly shakeup and set it on the kitchen table, for the planet and stars to shine on.