June 17, 2020
During the shelter in place, a fence has opened the way for new relationships, and opened my heart. It seems odd that a fence could open anything. After all, I generally think of a fence to separate.
Joe, the owner of the apartment building next door to my home decided it was time to do something about the broken down fence. So a few months ago when Joe appeared at my front door, I was surprised. He introduced himself like I had never met him. I reminded him of our last conversation years before when he was grumpy. He apologized. And continued that he wanted to work together to fix the fence. As we started rebuilding our relationship, I realized years before he was getting older and tired of dealing with all the issues of managing a property... like broken fences. I certainly understand!
So the past few months we have talked about trees and fences. Once the shelter in place happened, Joe would call as he could not leave his house, and our conversations evolved. I learned about his Italian-American heritage; the history of my property and his property; his wife and family; making homemade limoncello, and his loquat tree. I also learned his 93rd birthday would be today; June 17, 2020. I’ll come back to that…
Soon I saw a man on the other side of the broken fence measuring. I went outside and introduced myself to him. I met Michael; a friend of Joe’s who takes care of things like fences. Michael said he’d be back the next day and start work. He arrived the next day with another Michael so I started calling them the two Michaels… although the other went by Mike.
In the midst of solitude and processing the country’s pandemic and uprising for change, I found joy in seeing Michael/Mike each day; and talking with Joe by telephone in the evenings.
Each day I set up the table in my back yard with a bright tablecloth and made sure the chairs were clean. I put out a cooler for the Michaels; and would fill it with large jars of icy cold water and iced tea… a different flavor each day. I put out treats like homemade cookies or muffins and also mixed nuts. My main Michael liked the mixed nuts and had a sparkle in his eye when he said how good they were; and that he could tell they were organic!
I started looking forward to hearing the Michaels taking breaks, and loved seeing them outside the window, relaxing and enjoying the refreshments. I loved checking in on them. Michael shared he was a gardener and liked my garden. Both men were fishermen and shared their dream of buying a small boat together. I could imagine the two out sitting in silences, casting their lines and waiting for the sturgeon or bass. One day Mike had a minor inquiry and Michael called for my help. I came out with alcohol wipes and bandaids and helped tend to the injury… and added first aid supplies to the table.
One evening chat with Joe, I marveled at the Loquat tree that was flourishing, and asked if I could pick some of the fruit. The next day, Michael left a bag of Loquats in the cooler and said Joe asked him to pick some for me.
The Michael’s were working a fast pace when everything stopped due to protesting and looting, and the hardware stores being closed or out of lumber. My main Michael called me apologizing that they could not continue. Joe called me apologizing that they could not continue until they could get wood. I told both of them not to worry… when the time is right, the wood will be available. In light of all going on in the world, I felt there was much grace to be given.
During the break in work, I made Loquat Date Cardamom Jam. So when wood was available, the Michael’s returned. That day I had a jar of jam for each of them to take home.
One day, main Michael inquired about what I did and it was the day after I officiated a funeral; so I shared about my work at a Celebrant and as a Chaplain. Both expressed interest that I was a Chaplain, and shared they were both veterans and served in the Navy. From there the conversation evolved into sharing about life and death; faith and beliefs. And main Michael shared he was married, and shared a bit about his wife.
Last week, on their last day of work, they went so fast. I didn’t catch them before they left. The next day felt so quiet. I realized how much I now looked forward to setting a table of welcome each day for the Michaels. What a treat it was to leave treats and notes; and have connection with other humans for a brief time each day. The building of the fence ironically provided that connection.
I called my main Michael last Saturday and got his voice mail. I started off with “I miss you!” And I asked him to call back to share more about his idea to use my old bricks for planters by the fence.
Today was Joe’s 93rd birthday so I already had my plan to drop off a birthday gift for him; which included a jar of the Loquat jam. I was thinking on the way over that I had not heard back from Michael and thought I should call again. I was hoping he might like to do the job with the bricks, as he shared how nice it would complete my back yard.
I arrived at Joe’s house and found his son, Joe Jr. outside decorating. I introduced myself and asked if I could give him the gift bag to give to his father. Joe Jr. said the family was surprising Joe with a drive by parade and invited me to join since it was happening soon. So I drove to the nearby school parking lot and met more family members, got some streamers tied on my car door handles and joined the parade. I was the last car and Joe and his wife were seated outside on the driveway and he looked so happy!
Tonight, Joe called to thank me for coming by. And then, he shared sad news. Michael died Friday. It was a tragic automobile accident. I had learned that Michael had a miraculous recovery in recent months from an aneurysm. His vocal cords were affected and he hoped to get some healing in the coming months. Joe wasn’t sure what happened but evidently Michael lost control of his vehicle and went off the road into a tree. Michael’s wife was with him and also died. My heart broke. Joe’s heart was broke. We both shared our shock and sadness. I listened to more from Joe about his relationship with Michael, and his mixed feelings of celebrating his birthday today in the midst of his grief over the sudden loss of his friend. Joe thanked me. He thanked me for the way I treated Michael and said how much Michael shared with Joe his appreciation; and his joy of the fence job.
I don’t know how all this happened about a fence. I feel there was some purpose. My heart and soul have been touched deeply.
A fence was torn down, and a new one was built. With tender loving care. Out with the old; in with the new. I gained and I lost. What a reminder of the cycle of life.
I stood by the fence tonight and looked to the stars and said some prayers. I thought of him and his sparkling eyes telling me he wanted the fence to look good for me.
I am thankful our paths crossed. The fence holds memories of our meeting; and holds your spirit. You shared with me your faith; and I felt you were at peace during our time together. May you rest in the eternal peace that is yours. Amen.