Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Frankie was a guy that I met playing golf. His age was hard to tell, but I read him as being in his early 40's. He was tall and thin, with a goutee, and a leathery look making it clear that Frankie worked outside in the sun and wind. Frankie's golf clubs, and his golf swing were far more impressive than his ability to dress. Upon first glance, a veteran golfer would have thought that Frankie was a construction worker that aimed to drink more beers than there were holes on the course. He was wearing a tee shirt with rough looking khaki shorts. The hatchet tattoo on his calf took up most of his leg below his knee. His short white socks were ankle high, as expected for late 80's – early 90's fashion. While he talked of beer, I didn't see Frankie drink anything but Gatorade and water.
While Frankie had a rough look, it was downright enjoyable to play golf with him. He had a fairly smooth golf swing, and managed his game as well as any average golfer would. He said that he'd been playing golf for 6 years. Which, upon hearing, I had to amend my view; he was playing great for only having been playing such a short time. I'd been playing for 15 years and wasn't much better than Frankie, if I was better at all.
It was on the 13th hole, that God began to reveal Frankie to me a little bit…like any diamond in the rough, Frankie had much more below the surface than talking about drinking beer and hitting golf balls into the water. We were waiting for the group ahead of us to finishing playing the hole, which was taking a few minutes. So, our foursome (Frankie, his friend Mike, Rick the Hurricane Ike refugee, and myself) turned our conversation to the Tulsa area golf courses that we had played. We discussed which ones were fun to play, hard to play, not worth playing, and too busy to play. I came around to asking the question that was forefront in my mind, which was, "Have you guys ever played Southern Hills?" Southern Hills was a famous country club in south urban Tulsa that had been the home of several major PGA championships. Most recently the 2007 PGA Championship was held there. That's what Frankie referenced in his reply. "No, but I been there. Hell, I was standing about 5-6 feet from Tiger Woods. He couldn't a been any further from me to you." Frankie continued, "Yeah, I was drunker than a motherfucker, and I was on TV, could barely stand up. I was even on TV, and all my friends saw me…they told me that I looked like total shit."
This reply was expected from everything my mental stereotypical engine had expected. It was at this point that two very interesting and key things happened in our conversation. My Christian self-promotional system kicked in to high gear, and I was instantly elevated to Fankie's judge. I thought of how he had squandered the opportunity to be at a PGA Tour event by drinking too much. Drinking, in itself, doesn't bother me as a Christian, but as any responsible person would agree, drinking too much is a problem for anyone. So, I was busy trying to be nice as a Christian and only judge Frankie a tiny bit…which is what I think we Christians are really good at. We remember what Jesus told us about sin, and about judging people. Yet, it is really hard not to bring the morality hammer down on someone when his or her actions appear to be so in contradiction with what Jesus described as the proper way to live. Follow that thought immediately by the fact that I pictured myself struggling through my Christian journey, and I was sure I was doing a much better job than Frankie. It was at this moment; when Frankie opened his mouth again, and the second key aspect of this conversation hit me square in the face.
Frankie flowed right into the next sentence, "But, I didn't care, my wife had died a week earlier, and I really didn't care what the fuck other people thought".
I wouldn't have cared either. I ceased being a judge. I'm a grown man, as masculine as the next, most of the time. I've had my own cold looks into the face of death. It becomes instantly hard to hate, dislike, or judge a person once you get to know them, or get to know their story.
My whole view of this man before me changed in an instant. I have learned that when I have pictured something a certain way, and it has the capability of changing so drastically, so instantly, that it is generally God speaking to me in a clear way.
I had MIS-judged Frankie. I wasn't about to do it again. As we continued to play the next two holes, I silently thought about how hard it would be to lose my wife. Wow, I honestly couldn't fathom the concept. I approached Frankie on the tee box of the next hole (Hole 16 for those of you counting). I told Frankie that I had lost people in my life and that I understand how hard it is to lose a loved one…I ended by saying that I couldn't imagine losing my wife, and that I was sorry for his loss. Frankie further revealed the inner gem inside the rough exterior. We had made a connection. I had explained that I had lost my mother and father at a young age. Frankie had lost his mother when he was 10 years old. I could tell that his eyes misted as he said, "It's my ten year old daughter that I worry about, why the fuck did that have to happen to her, she didn't deserve that…" The truth is that Frankie didn't deserve that either. He continued, "My friends tell me that I can't just let her do whatever she wants…but, I love her to death and want her to have fun in life, it's already so serious for her. I know I'm hard on her, but I want her to grow up good."
One of my final memories of that round of golf was on the 18th hole. It had started to rain, and the wind was heavy at our backs. We had to decide to play the last hole in the rain, or head to the clubhouse. Frankie jumped up on the tee box and said, "Hey boys we got the wind, let's let her rip and see if we can drive the ball 400 yards". I looked back at him grabbing my driver and said, "Yeah, let's boom these bastards".
That comment on the tee was a God-sent gift for me. It was raining, but Frankie didn't even notice. It was raining pretty hard. But, all Frankie could see what the opportunity to do something every golfer loves…knock the ball forever down the fairway like the pro's do. Now, my job in this life seems to be to follow people wherever it is they want to go… and while I'm not drawing a solid conclusion, I believe that Frankie had found hope. He had ignored his current circumstances, which were negative, and focused on the opportunity to do something better than he'd done in the past. It was something stupid, like hitting a golf ball 400 yards…but you have to start somewhere.
As I reflected, months later, on my time with Frankie, I was drawn to the golf tournament where Frankie commented about being so close to Tiger Woods. Tiger is a figure of perfection in the golfing community, supreme excellence, one of extremely high value. Tiger is one of the great ones, (or was at the time). Yet, as Frankie's story burned deeper inside of me, I couldn't help but recognize the irony of this picture. One of the most famous concepts that Jesus discussed in His ministry was the turning upside down of the world order. The first would be last, He said, and the least of you shall be the greatest. So, as we picture these two men standing in such proximity. One completely focused on the great one, and the other completely focused on his golf game. I wonder which one was the greater of the two? Which one in God's eyes had the dazzling target of an open wound, too wounded, and drunk to even understand, at the time, what his life would be like as a single father? Which one of these two would Jesus consider the greatest? While I can't be sure, and certainly nothing against Tiger Woods, I do think that Jesus would have been standing right next to Frankie, and being proud to be doing so… I don't know, maybe he was…
Sunday, April 3, 2011
While sitting in the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, awaiting a flight that kept getting pushed back, I sat in the waiting area next to the gate. There were many people there waiting for this flight, and I sat back and tried to relax. I closed my eyes and tried to get a little rest, it was morning and I'd caught a 7 a.m. flight from Orlando. As I did, my ears beckoned me to listen to a conversation right behind me…turning around, I saw a slightly overweight woman, with gray hair, talking on her cell phone. She looked like any other grandmother, that is if your grandmother had a nice cane, and a hair cut that favored carousing with the same sex. She sounded nice and concerned, but then, the fireworks started.
"Hey! Get your dead ass up and get to Tulsa, I'm in Dallas. Yes, I'm flying in a…well, if the damn plane will ever get here."
I'm not sure, obviously, who was on the other end of that line, but sounds like they better get up and start moving towards Tulsa.
"They got that test back, on the SPLEEN. Last I heard she was in dialysis [Die-AL-uh-SIS…slowly spoken]. How does she look?"
"Well, What room is she in…3132…that's 3-1-3-2…got it. I'll be there in a couple of hours…I'll get checked in to the hotel and …what, moved to 272? What the hell woman?"
Now, I'm really into this conversation…and I really wish I could see who was on the other end. I don't think you want to be yanking Aunt Bea's chain, or pulling her cane as it were.
"Well, they were at the horse show, and you know they moved all the qualifiers….yes, all the qualifiers got moved, 'cuz of the snow…Yeah, we'll be there for a while and then we'll go hang with Steve and his gang."
Horses and gangs…and I don't know about you, but my grandmother doesn't really "hang", except maybe…well, never mind. On with the show…
"Well, I don't really know how HE'LL be feeling…you know he's hard to talk to on the phone, what with all that wheezing all the time. YES, he still goes down to that damn bar, with all that smoke…you believe that?"
"Hey, that reminds me…you remember Hal Leonard? No, No, NO, used to live across from mom and dad…Yeah, him. Well, you know they amputated on him, and he's not doing…no, no good at all."
"How long do they take for their…oh, well, he's only got a few months…and the VA, well they just go there to die, or get well and leave…either way, they said he's 82 on the list and busted…he's having mental issues too, and he's number 82 on the wait list…No, she cain't take care of him."
"Well, Cowboy's gonna come home on Emergency Leave. They're trying to get him home to see his daddy one more time. He's with the Red Cross in Afghanistan…what, yes, I'm sick…but didn't sleep a wink, just hacked all night…but, I'll be ok, I got some kick-ass herbals from a guy here…something about some AKIE berry or something…what? that's Uh-Sigh berry…oh, well that, I'll be ok."
"Yeah, they want Cowboy come home, 'cuz he's so damned proud of that boy for making something of his life…shame if that boy don't get to see him before he goes."
"What…I thought he was coming? Hasn't anyone even called the Red Cross? Well, you just dial the damned number and start asking questions, starting with, 'we need to get in touch with a boy who's father is about to die'."
At this point, I had to get up and move, because Aunt Bea got off the phone and I needed a better vantage point to watch my quarry…I am now a Voyeur Extraordinaire…no use trying to deny it.
Round 2 (Aunt Bea sat back down and begins dialing her phone again…not clear if this is the same person or not, on the other end of cellular cyberspace)
"Well, listen here, this is really pissin me off now…we, you and me are gonna have to go all Bee-Yatch on them when I get there, you got it!"
"You gotta get someone to call the Red Cross, they'll go find that boy, that's what they do…he needs to get home to his dying daddy…that man loves that boy."
"Well mess with my mouth for just thinking about it, but that's got to get done."
"I didn't realize we was walking into a snake pit. Sounds I'm gonna have to go all Janitor on them when I get there [This is the correct phrasing]."
"Well, you better get down there and change the damned locks then…I told them they got no business being down there…who gave them the key…Jesus, oh Jesus, you can't save people from themselves, can you?"
"Well, you can tell them now, that they don't want to be there when I get there, I'll be kicking their asses out, they might oughtta leave while they can on their own legs."
"You call Derrick and tell him I'm callin in a solid…I want them locks changed before I get there [It's a 40 minute flight]."
Derrick better get his dead ass over there and change the locks.
"Yes, I ate something at that French place in the airport Owe Bawn Pain."
At this point, we are called to board, and she gets off the phone.
On the plane, I see no signs of Aunt Bea, but after my upgrade, it occurs to me that she probably could have done with the upgrade more than I. While I was thoroughly entertained by her drawl and sense of "I'm gonna kick someone's ass", I was also drawn into her story. Her family is getting older and they are in a constant state of falling apart. Older people that grow sick and can't take care of each other…older parents that can't say no to their kids, when all they do is take advantage of their aging parents. I could see the worry in her eyes, while the bravado worked to take charge, and create some structure to what sounded like a family in chaos. I'm not sure who she's going to see…the lady on dialysis or Cowboy's daddy, maybe both. It was clear that she was going to make sure things got done. I'm grateful that they have someone in their family that can think while the world continues to fall apart. I was reminded of my own grandmother, as she ages, and can remember at times, scenes like this playing out in my own home…where someone had to come take charge in a completely broken situation, with a completely broken family.
I do hope Cowboy made it back to see his daddy one more time...