I had a friend I met at the soup line. He was a charming old man, thin and small, who really liked people. He would be happy to see me and Ming. His name was Nick.
When I met him, he told me about his life. Born in Texas, Mexican-American, military service, married, post office also, and porter. What a journey he’d been on. He wore dressup shirts with thin material. I remember how it felt to hug his small body. The joy of Nick.
When he told me his name was Nicolas, I said, “Oh, like the song.” Then I sang for him a few bars of Colas, which is a funny song in Spanish where Colas’ name changes based on how much money he has, and his pretty horse dances forward and backward.
He liked that song, and liked that I knew it. “How do you know that song?” he asked. He was curious and full of admiration for people.
Every time I saw Nick on the soupline, it was a celebration. He would show up with his friend. We’d delight in the company of one another. We would smile, and he would praise me. How good I looked, how smart I was, to remember his name, and how good my Spanish was. What a charmer. “Of course I remember you, Nick. How could I forget?”
He was very religious. I never met the relatives he would bring to the Las Vegas Catholic Worker soupline–the obituary mentions he would bring his kids and grandkids. I remember a back problem he had, years ago.
What a rich thing, a life is. He wanted a 21 gun salute and spoke up against abortion–abortion is a right I need. What a complex net of beliefs, behaviors, values, memories, impulses. And how weird, to get to know someone better after they died, with the context of an obituary.
But I knew the sparkle in his eye, his desire to help, his kindness, how his hands felt on my back as he hugged me, his solidness and lightness.
I love that Nick enjoyed growing plants–I read in his obituary the story of how he was trying to grow a plant, and stuck a stick in the pot to support the plant. The plant died, but the stick sprouted. That seems like a beautiful metaphor, but I can’t think of what for.
Maybe the lesson is you might not get what you thought you wanted, but life finds a way. Or stay open to the unexpected. Or something about God’s will vs a person’s will.
It seems like a sweet cartoon joke. I wonder if the stick was a grapevine cane, in winter imagined as dead, but the life is stirring inside it, and it grows roots, then leafs out, a beautiful surprise. Yes, maybe it’s just about surprises.
Love to Nick and the family of Nick. And everyone who feeds hungry people, and tries to help, when help can feel futile. But we can create joy in it.