I don’t typically talk to pastors.
I’m no longer interested in finding easy access to friends. In high school and college, I did it by smoking pot. I used passing the joint as a way in. Truth is, as soon as the joint hit my lips, here was my next thought, “How much longer til this nightmare is over?” I never liked the way pot made me feel and lucky enough, I was honest with myself and walked away. I’m not an addict. Or maybe I was more interested in selling pot but I didn’t want to break the law and I didn’t want to hurt other people by selling them garbage. To me it’s garbage. If you like it, if you sell it, good for you. I’m not in your clique.
In my early 30’s, a bunch of seemingly ambitious people I knew began getting into religion. So I went along. I was looking for friends and God seemed like a harmless way in. But the harder I tried to believe the harder it became to deny that in the eyes of God women were emotional 2nd class. Harmless was the exact wrong word. I watched seemingly smart people wrap themselves up in convenient justifications for looking the other way as gay men and women were pushed around. I couldn’t do it, lying to myself wasn’t worth the admission price to heaven. To me it’s garbage. If you like it, if you feel it, good for you. I’m not in your clique.
In my 40’s, I ran restaurants. I thought I was building a community. I was grateful for the opportunity to get to know the regulars and it was an honor to make payroll. Generating stability for the people who showed up to work was an unexpected source of joy in my life. In 2008, the financial world was reduced to rubble by criminal bankers who never faced a consequence. I reached into my savings account to make payroll. When I look back now I see I was trying to buy friends. It worked until it didn’t, which is to say they took the money and I felt good about it at the time. After the restaurant closed, and time passed, and not a single person who worked for me ever stopped to notice, or say thank you, I turned my gaze inward. I sent letters to everyone I ever worked for in my 20’s and 30’s to thank them for the paycheck, for the Christmas bonus, something I never did when I was lucky enough to be on the receiving side of the paycheck. Until you’ve signed the paycheck you have no idea what’s really going on. I can never go back to the world of not knowing. To me it’s garbage. If you like it, if living your life in perpetual adolescence gives you comfort, good for you. I’m not in your clique.
My dad once said to me life isn’t about making friends, it’s about getting rid of them. I thought he was being hard nosed since he’s from The Bronx. But I get it now. I’ve been vilified on social media for sport. I’ve had people I know from the neighborhood of my childhood invite me out for coffee so they could put me in my place. I’ve had people I don’t know on any level walk into my restaurant, armed with their 2nd amendment rights, trying to kill me. When you’ve been hunted, when you’ve had childhood friends look at you with shame instead of love, you take kindness wherever you find it and so when I saw the words on the sign outside St. Peter’s United Church Of Christ, I stopped to think. I took a few pictures. At first, I didn’t notice the feet on the other side of the sign. But once I stepped to the other side, I saw Pastor Richard Lanford. He was fixing the P in Pray. It was crooked. I asked him not to fix it, seeing truth in what he saw as a mistake needing to be corrected.
“I’m praying for the people we send to Washington,” he said. “I’m praying for the president who seeks joy in chaos. I’m praying for the boys and girls we send to war who come home but never feel a sense of home, who’ve changed but don’t know how to express what they have become, who are lost but don’t know how to ask for help, who are angry, so angry, it’s the only thing they can feel.”
I wanted to ask about the black soldiers who fought in Vietnam for freedom but came back to a country where they couldn’t piss in a bathroom without being arrested. Did he pray for them? I wanted to ask about the girls who weren’t allowed to attend military school until Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued as a lawyer before the Supreme Court. Did he pray for them? I wanted to ask about Chelsea Manning who’s on suicide watch, Jaime Leigh Jones who was raped by fellow soldiers, Pat Tillman who didn’t come home. Did he pray for them? I wanted to ask but instead I said nothing.
There it was again, this bottomless desire for friendship. I thanked the pastor for his time, asking when he preached. He told me and I lied, telling him I’d make the time. Or maybe I didn’t lie, since maybe I’ll go.
God only knows.
But I’m not looking for friends. I’m looking for a pretty room where I can sit for an hour, feeling surrounded but alone, connected to nothing larger than a promise I made which no one would hold me to but myself.