Quixote's EpistleThese are the main articles from our quarterly epistle.
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A few weeks ago, I grumbled to the Garage guests about not putting out a Fall Epistle. I’ve always said if it wasn’t worth reading I wouldn’t print one, and nobody had written anything and I had nothing to say, so . . . . A guest, lying on the couch in the middle of the room, popped up like a prairie dog. “I’ll write one,” he said, “Brain tumors can be fun.” His life, he said, had become mundane, routine, and then he got a brain tumor and that solved that. Really.
This is his story:
Brain tumors can be just as amusing as they are disheartening.
My name is Dave. I am 40 years old. Just an average, ordinary kid. Mid-April this year the “big” headache began and my vision faded to black. On April 29 I was diagnosed with a rare cancerous brain tumor. That’s when the fun began. Directly to Barrow’s Neurological Center I went. Within two days I went from a blind guy with a bad headache to a hollow shell of my former self: Unable to remember more than two sequential numbers and no longer able to assemble the words to deliver my thoughts in a meaningful way to another human and, possibly, to most life forms.
Jump forward 20 radiation and nine chemo sessions, and I’m back. OK. Here is where the fun really began. I have very little of my vision left, no sense of smell, little sense of taste, my ears constantly ring, and my fingers are mostly numb. (Please note, for those who don’t know me. I am not making a joke of brain cancer. This is just my take on what it means to me.)
Let me weigh the pros and cons for you.
I recently ate a Brussels sprout and only became aware of it when I was told what it was. (I can’t stand Brussels sprouts.) I can’t focus my eyes on an object, but I can throw WAY more accurately. I still love the outdoors, but rarely see the animals. When crossing the street stops being fun, I’ll use the crossing lights.
How many times have you thought to yourself, “I wish I hadn’t seen that?” There is no difference in the scent of rotten eggs or spring flowers. I can’t focus well enough to read a book, a paper, or a magazine. No upside to that. A mountain bike is a full-time, white-knuckle ride, and now I ride slower than a herd of turtles.
- Pro: I could eat cauliflower or Brussels sprouts and not know it.
- Con: I could eat cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.
- Pro: Nothing smells bad.
- Con: Nothing smells good.
- Pro: Mountain biking is exhilarating even at a snail’s pace.
- Con, or maybe pro: I’ve learned to ride via echo location. For example, I called out, “Jack, where are you?” Jack answered, “Down here. Careful of the rut in the trail and the rock on the left.”
- Pro:I work on my mountain bike while staring at the sky.
- Con: One day, while talking to a friend, I apologized for not looking her in the eye. ”Headless friends creep me out,” I explained.
- Pro: Now I recognize people by their gait and voice.
Works out fine.
An ode to brain tumors
Lump in my head
What a dread
Might as well be night
Lack of smell and taste
Food and flowers go to waste
– David Meyer
I grew up with fairness.
Cookies – food in general – had to be divvied up evenly. Everybody had to play by the rules. Presents were weighed according to how many and how much they cost. Even time was allotted so we all got our share.
But I knew “things” were not fair. My sister was prettier. My mother liked my brothers more. School was easier for me than for any of them. And so it went.
Nevertheless, I passed the fairness doctrine on to my daughters. Doug and I strove to be fair to them, even though as we looked at the world we saw that somehow “things” are not fair. For example, by cultural standards Doug and I didn’t have much, but we had way too much compared to what the planet could support for everybody. And while hurricanes flooded parts of the country, we needed rain. Millions of people in our lifetime were being killed in wars, but not here.
Even so, we tried to be fair.
I think it still may be a default practice for me, even though in my quest to make sense of my life I came to understand that fairness is not of God, and that only in the last century have Western thinkers come to equate justice, particularly social justice, with fairness.
Recently, people in the Garage have talked about local groups working on social justice issues – housing, public transportation, immigration. So I looked up some stuff, and concluded that many of us seem to believe that what works for the privileged few should prevail for all. We should all have adequate health care. Everybody should have free access to clean air and water. Everyone should have an equal opportunity for an education.
Notice the word should in that paragraph. Should implies that if something is or is not happening, we are obligated to fix it. It is only fair. So we organize, we talk, we write, we protest, we pray about the issues. And that’s alright, but associating fairness, freedom and equality with justice doesn’t work. It sure doesn’t in nature: the earth’s resources are not distributed evenly; the rainforest is not equal to the desert; a worm is not free to fly.
Maybe freedom and equality, like fairness, are simply human constructs to make our bumbling about in the world workable for us. Justice is not a human construct. We can’t, or at least I can’t, know what is just. We don’t have a criminal justice system; we have a legal system. So for me, “social justice” makes a big too doo about a simple concept. The big issues are BIG. We can organize, and talk, and pray, and write, and protest about them, or we can look at a situation right in front of us and figure out what we can and are willing to do about that.
Right here, right now, DES, where poor people go to sign up for food stamps and AHCCCS, has moved to the far side of Prescott Valley, even though most of the clients live in Prescott and have no transportation. And men and women who are released from the county jail in Camp Verde have no way to get back to Prescott. What can you do to help? You could work and work and work to get public transportation to happen in the quad cities sometime (People have for as long as I can remember.) or you can offer to give an individual a ride.
In one of our early epistles, Doug wrote about the Prescott police officers who got into trouble for destroying and urinating on the camps of homeless people: We can hope that better training and healthier attitudes will decrease police harassment of homeless persons, but we must remember that our social ills are only symptoms of what is in our own hearts. We have to start cleaning on the inside and work our way out.
It isn’t fair that we each have to do all that work, but it probably is just.
– Kris Finn
April 2008: Riding freight train from Ft. Worth to San Diego to try to get work. Spotted on the train and kicked off outside Casa Grande.
May: Wallet stolen while sleeping in alley.
June-Aug.: Work odd jobs at Able Body, but with no ID no one will rent to me.
Sept.-Dec. 2010: Homeless still. Hit a brick wall trying to get ID. Very few charities and no shelter in Casa Grande.
Dec. 2010: Friend I met in city park invites me to live at his house.
Feb. 2011: Going to store for the friend I live with. Wake up next day at a hospital in Phoenix. Left ankle in cast (broken). Left arm strapped to chest due to broken collarbone and torn rotator cuff. Plus severe concussion and sprained neck. No memory of accident to this day. It was a hit and run.
April 8: Sent back to Casa Grande in a wheelchair. Told by doctor I would never be the same.
Aug. 12, 2012: Celebrating birthday, I lose my balance and put right arm through window. Hospitalized and have permanent damage to arm.
May-April 2013: Recovery is slow. One operation on left ankle, five on right arm (one more is needed). Arthritis hits me in neck and left hip and ankle.
April 1: Friend loses house to foreclosure. Now I’m back on the streets.
Aug. 11: Day before my birthday. Go to hot lunch and visit my friends all afternoon. Come back to camp just before dark. My camp is gone. All my clothing, bedding, paperwork and food are gone.
Aug. 12: Decide to sell food stamps and go on one-week drunk (I was depressed).
Aug. 18: Old friend of mine sees me and talks me into going to Detox. I know I need to change.
Aug. 27: Case worker at Detox tells me about Prescott and asks me if I want to go there. I know I need a new place so I say yes. Arrive here same day, but no beds at shelter. Spend eight days under bridge until bed opens up at shelter.
Sept. 4-23: Start meeting people who tell me about places like Quixote’s Garage, Salvation Army, Open Door, St. Vincent de Paul.
Sept. 23-Oct. 3: Still hitting walls on my ID in spite of everyone’s help. Also, my left ankle starts hurting real bad. Check into hospital Sept. 23 to discover I have a staph infection in ankle due to the metal plates put in my ankle. My body is rejecting the metal, causing the infection. The next day they take the metal out. I am told not to use left foot for 45 days.
Oct. 4-Nov. 18: Sent to Kachina Point in Sedona for physical rehab and more IVs. Social worker there believes who I am and obtains my birth certificate.
Nov. 18: Discharged from Kachina Point and return to Prescott.
Nov. 19-Dec. 30: Try to get Social Security card and am told I need a picture ID before anyone would talk to me. I don’t give up though. Go back to Social Security Dec. 6 and ask for a supervisor who tells me that with a letter from Kachina Point stating my personal info and dates I was there she could approve a card for me. Call Kachina Point to get letter. Receive it Dec. 13 and go to Social Security. No problem; card on the way. Receive card Dec. 20 and get a ride to DMV that day, but am told they need a third form of ID. The clerk is very helpful and asks if I have a health insurance card. Yes, I do, and she hands me my ID.
It took me five years but I finally got it.
- More permanent roof over me.
- Get disability.
- Get eyes fixed so I can get driver’s license.
- Find my kids in Texas.
A man can, as John Steinbeck said, live a gray life. It can be lonely, full of so-called failure. He may be penniless, addicted, unable or unwilling to hold an ordinary job. He may sleep in a tent in the forest, hang around the square or Whiskey Row, shave and shower only when he’s able. He may feel his life passing him by and look back mostly upon regrets and hurts. He may blame everyone but himself.
As Linda explains about Willy Lowman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, “I don’t say he’s a great man. [He] never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper…But he’s a human being…so attention must be paid… Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person.”
Willy Lowman is all of us. He is the corporate CEO, the carpenter building the house, the mother home with her children, the clerk behind the counter, the cop in the cruiser, the criminal behind bars, the waitress in the restaurant, the pastor behind the pulpit. He is every person who walks through the door of Quixote’s Garage.
Our society is designed to keep us isolated. A sense of community is discouraged. In school we learn to compete, not cooperate; to be better than the other guy, not help the other guy be all he can be. Our isolation is so much a part of our lives that we think it’s normal.
The Catholic Worker movement offers another example. Community is not only possible and desirable; it’s a great way to live. We can work together for peace, for social change, for a new society. Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin wanted to create a society in which it is easier to be good. And I would add that we must create a society in which it is easier to be together—with each other and with the rest of creation. We are revolutionaries.
Dorothy Day said, “The greatest challenge of the day is: How to bring about a revolution of the heart; a revolution which has to start with each one of us.”
So when someone walks through the door of Quixote’s Garage, attention is paid to that person. Our guests know that someone else is aware that they exist; that they are human beings, an essential part of God’s creation.
This is our revolutionary, our radical act of compassion. It is our resistance to a society based on isolation that can lead only to fear, that in turn leads to violence, destruction and war. We are out to change the world by changing ourselves and each other one heart at a time.
Doug Finn, Co-founder of the Garage, beloved husband to Kris
Doug passed away in 2005
The world would be better off
if people tried to become better.
And people would become better
if they stopped trying to become
For when everybody tries to become
nobody is better off.
But when everybody tries to become
everybody is better off.
Everybody would be rich
if nobody tried to become richer.
And nobody would be poor
if everybody tried to be the poorest.
And everybody would be what he
ought to be
if everybody tried to be
what he wants the other fellow to be.