Recently, I had an image in my mind, a man … many years compiled; white hair, weathered face, eyes that drew you into his stories, his life, seasoned in his silence. A man who did not speak, just so he could hear himself. I searched for the picture of a man who fit the image I was contemplating. The drawing below, of a man’s face, brought to the surface, something allegorical.
Grady. Late seventies. A jovial man with a thankful spirit, in an assisted living-type of context. I met Grady in a sports bar a number of years ago. The stool next to him was open. I didn’t ask, I claimed the place along the bar. He wore a surfer-style t-shirt (it could have been him on the board riding a wave), thick white hair, large forearms; he had the marked and worn hands of a carpenter, with a nice collection of scars from building houses. Grady was drinking coffee.
I asked, ‘”Why would a fella come to a sports bar and drink coffee?”
The man set his coffee down and looked at me with a strong poker face. Sizing me up, he said, “Big TV’s to watch sports. I get to talk to pretty women.”
I saw the mischief in his blue eyes, a contagious grin. I asked him what his wife thinks about such tomfoolery.
‘There are no big TVs in my home, and only one good-looking gal to talk to. Belle. She is my wife. And she understands such matters.”
I sat with Grady at the sports bar once, or twice, monthly, Wednesday evenings. He said I had a higher calling than to hang out in sports bars. I told Grady “Maybe you also have a higher calling than hanging out in sports bars.” Grady stared up into the heavens for a bit, before slowly nodding: “This may be true.”
Belle passed in ’91. I attended Belle’s funeral, sat with Grady, with an unexplainable sense that Belle was there, also, sitting with Grady. Soon after, Grady moved to where he is now, an upscale assisted living set up. I hang out with Grady, on Wednesday’s. Grady has not changed a bit since we met; I was heckling him about drinking coffee in a sports bar. He is the same big-boned man, somewhere above the six-foot mark, a strong smile and a weathered gentleness. Grady will shift from regular sentences into multiple phrases; eyes focused on a place, a thought, beyond our here-and-now. I think about what he is saying; I look for a pattern, or patterns; and I am able to follow him. He has a sharp mind.
“Vision … you get it, don’t lose it …’
Belle’s love … “
Friend … priceless …”
Recently, I asked, “How goes the battle, Grady?”
“It goes, my young friend, continues on many fronts. Sometimes well, sometimes not.” “Example?”
“(Pause) We have these debates that come up, some of the men, here. We encourage each other. At times, someone will get a bit heated. That happened yesterday (pause). I’m learning more about appreciating that … tension … in community. Over many years, I have found myself worried about losing a friend, if I say the wrong thing, or if I don’t do what people want me to do. I do not need to fear the tension, the conflict. These are good men, and we have the freedom to be real and to speak freely. It’s alright if we see things differently. Yes. They are good men, like you.”
I still need to dig a bit deeper with this allegory, to get the big idea, Based on what I have, so far, I think this allegory is about our gravitation towards authentic relationship; the inner substance of redemptive desire to understand each other, respectively; the potential committment to stick with a relationship for the long haul, versus fading away to move on, to the next “thing”, the next friend. I hope that you have enjoyed this allegorical place I have gone to.