Thursday, May 05, 2005

Salud Cinco de Mayo

...which is about as close as I can get to Happy Cinco de Mayo, or "5th of May."

It's funny - when I was in Shawnee and Overland Park, Kansas, Cinco de Mayo was a big deal - it seemed every Americanized pseudo-Mexican restaurant had some CdM deal going on. Here, in Chicago, with a huge Spanish-speaking population, I hardly hear about it. Of course, I hardly read a physical Chicago paper, and I live in Hyde Park (which is pretty Espangnol-impaired, compared to other neighborhoods) - so I'm not sure how I'd hear about it. But it snuck up on me, nonetheless.

Which is funny, in a way. After all, my parents were of English and Polish stock, respectively - so it wouldn't be a big deal anyway. In fact, I wouldn't even care...if it weren't for Bart.

Bart was a young man I sponsored in AA for a while. He was a free-spirited soul who was more straight than not, but had a flair for cross-dressing and a habit of in-your-face dressing when I first met him. (The first night I met him at an AA meeting, he was in a three-piece suit; the second night was in a black lace see-thru blouse, black hiking pants, black fishnet stockings, combat boots, and a black leather jacket. That kind of "in-your-face" dressing.)

We had talked about how to channel those expressions in a new and sober life. I'd shared with him Gentle Closings and Where is Heaven? by Ted Menten, and he picked up on Menten's dressing up in costumes to entertain sick kids. It wasn't too long before Bart discovered clowning. He'd find the most outrageous outfits - polyester suits in tangerine or lime green, Cat-in-the-Hat style hats, you name it - and he even adopted Ted Menten's nickname... Mr. Silly (among others).

He found that kids and adults alike loved the get-ups - and he started his clowning career with AA picnics, then visiting kids in hospitals. And then someone referred him to On the Border, or one of those quasi-Mexican restaurants, to do clowning for their Cinco de Mayo event. We talked about it - how to be in a bar and stay sober, and how to focus on his primary purpose for being there (to bring joy to the folks who were dining, and be of service to his employer for the night).

He had a blast. I don't remember any more whether the phone call I got was that night, or the next day - but it was full of laughter and "You shoulda seen..." and "oh, WOW..." moments. He'd had a natural, sober "high" - and he was pumped. I couldn't help smiling as I listened to him talk.

I remember thinking of two quotes as I listened to him.
The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) the world most needs to have done. ...The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet. (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, p. 95.)

To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends - this is an experience you must not miss. We know you will not want to miss it. Frequent contact with newcomers and with each other is the bright spot of our lives. (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th edition, 89.)
Bart's 650 miles away - with a wife, two beautiful kids, a great job, and a new AA community. Our lives have gone in different directions. But no matter what happens, on Cinco de Mayo, his indomitable spirit swooshes into my mind - sometimes in a floral sarong, sometimes in his tangerine suit, sometimes (God help me) in fishnet stockings. But always with a smile.

And I smile.
Like I am right now.
Sometimes I think about you
Some old memories make me cry
Remembering the good times makes me laugh -
But all in all, I'm richer for the happy and the sad,
And thankful for a season in your path.

(Wayne Watson, "A Season in Your Path," from
the CD A Beautiful Place)
Happy Cinco de Mayo, y'all.


Michael said...

Great post. I love the Buechner quote. Yet another book I have to read. Thanks a lot! (Said sarcastically, but meant seriously.)

Poor Mad Peter said...

I, too, love the Buechner quote (got the book it's from, in fact), and I hope that next time you feel like the big Steve-man is a wipeout, you'll remember Cinco de Majo and your role in being part of the turn-around in Bart's life.