Drool Machine

July 27th, 2019

It is impossible to hold Weston in my arms without wearing some of his bodily fluids. Weston is teething, and he tends to slobber. He puts his hands into his mouth, and he also likes to use the knuckle on my index finger as a teething ring. There is a lot of drool. Weston usually wears a bib, but that only helps a little.

Karin and I babysat Weston during the last three days, while his parents, Hans and Gabby, had a mini-honeymoon. We actually stayed at the same hotel that they did. Gabby wanted to keep Weston close. That was probably a wise move. It was definitely a loving mom move.

Karin and I bottle fed the little guy when his folks were out doing newlywed kinds of things. Weston sometimes fell asleep after eating, and sometimes he didn’t. If he didn’t doze off, then one of us would hold him in our arms and walk around for a while. I would rub his back or bounce him a bit. He would make an enormous belch, and suddenly my right shoulder was warm and wet. Weston felt much better, and I felt kind of moist. I learned to have a small towel on my shoulder when carrying Weston. Caring for a baby is a messy process, but well worthwhile.

Hans and Gabby went out for dinner at the hotel on Friday night. Gabby got Weston to sleep prior to their dinner date. We laid Weston on our bed, and he kept on sleeping. I watched him for a while in silence. I saw his chest rise and fall with his breathing. It was so peaceful. Every once in a while, Weston would make a noise and move his arms around. Dreaming? What do babies dream? After some spastic motion, he settled down again, and slept the sleep of the innocent.

Weston is remarkably alert. His eyes see everything. His ears hear it all. He is a takes in the whole world. I wonder how he is processing all of the information. Does he just absorb it all? Does he remember? If so, what?

Weston is in the Garden of Eden. I told Gabby that the story in the Bible is about growing up. It’s not about sin. I know that view is heretical, but that’s how I read it. Adam and Eve were spiritual and moral infants while they lived in God’s perfect garden. God told his little kids not to eat from a certain tree, and then He walked away, knowing that they would do so. They became adults when they ate the fruit from the Tree of Good and Evil, and God kicked them out of the nest. I think that was always His plan. I think He wanted co-creators. He needed adult apprentices to continue the eternal work of creation.

Weston is still in the Garden. Good for him. For the most part, he is surrounded by love. He is in awe of all that exists, good or bad. He is in a constant state of wonder, at least while he is awake.

Weston is a tiny part of the endless renewing of the universe.

Thirty Years

July 25th, 2019

We have been driving down to Texas almost every year for the last thirty years. I think that we have traveled every possible route between Wisconsin and the Lone Star State. Recently, we settled on a path that takes us through Bloomington, Illinois and St. Louis, Missouri. Then it winds through Branson and the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas. Eventually, after driving along a variety of back roads in Texas, we arrive in Bryan. That is where we always wind up.

I am trying to remember all the trips we have made to Texas. I can’t. The memories tend to compress and blend together. Karin remembers things that I cannot recall, I probably remember things that she does not.  We both probably remember things inaccurately. Maybe that doesn’t really matter.

Throughout the years, much has changed. We first went to Texas to visit my younger brother, Marc. He went there to study at Texas A&M. I don’t know why he did that, but he did. He studied aerospace engineering for a year, and he was very active in the Corps of Cadets. He was the guide on bearer, which apparently is an honor of sorts. Texas A&M is kind of like a southern-fried West Point. When we drove down to Bryan/College Station to see him, he had already met his future wife, Shawn, and he had jettisoned his plans at the university. He wasn’t going to school any more, but he wasn’t going to leave that local area.

Marc was eleven years younger than me. Somehow, we had a very close connection. I lives seemed to run in parallel. Our experiences we oddly similar.

Over the next few years, Karin and I and our kids returned to visit Marc and Shawn in Bryan. They got married in 1990. Marc and Shawn struggled financially, but they seemed happy. They liked going to coffee shops, especially “Sweet Eugene’s” in College Station. Shawn and Marc played in a Christian punk band, “Veil of Veronica”. They had two daughters, Maire  and Roise. I remember driving down to see them in 1997. Marc had a job as a bus dispatcher, and he went into work quite early. He woke up me on the morning of my departure to say goodbye. We shook hands.

Marc died in February of 1998. It was in a car wreck. He hit a bridge abutment and went through the windshield of his Mazda. Shawn was devastated, and their girls were traumatized. We went down for the funeral. Our son, Hans, couldn’t handle the vigil in the funeral home, so he went outside with Karin. When he stopped near a stand of trees, he told Karin that he could feel Marc’s spirit, and that was okay to go back into the building. I remember, before they closed Marc’s casket, that I bent down to kiss his forehead. That was coldest thing I have ever felt in my life.

After Marc’s death, we kept a close relationship with Shawn and her family. We kept going down there year after year. Hans became enamored with Texas. When Hans got into his teenage years, he wanted to spend his summers with Shawn in Texas. He went o Bryan every summer, even if Karin and I didn’t. Shawn always found activities for Hans. He got along well with her daughters. There was a time, when Roise was little, that she referred to Hans as her “bestest hero”.  I am not sure that she still thinks that way.

We got know Shawn’s family as the years went by. We met Shawn’s mom, Delphia, who was a smart and feisty woman. I remember her getting irritated with me, and then calling me a damn Yankee. Delphia married Tom Heck, an older man who was originally from from Louisiana. They bought an old, country house near Calvert. Shawn’s younger brother, Mark, was generous, loyal, smart and ambitious. He worked at the local newspaper, The Eagle, and eventually he became the operations manager there.

In 2008 Hans moved down to Texas. He had gone to school to be a carpenter, and he was going seek his fortune in Bryan. Unfortunately, the Great Recession hit just at that moment, and Hans wound up working in the mail room at The Eagle. Mark, Shawn’s brother, got him the job. The hours sucked and the pay was minimal, so Hans joined the Army in 2009. Even so, he never really left Texas except for basic training in Kentucky (Karin and I took him from Fort Knox to Bryan, via New Orleans, in the fall of 2010), and his deployment in Iraq. Hans spent most of military time with the armored cavalry at Fort Hood, Texas.

For a while, everything seemed to revolve around The Eagle. Shawn worked in the press room for some time. She met her second husband, Bob, there. Eventually, Stefan went down to Texas, and he worked in the press room too.  I think that was in 2014. We made some trips to Bryan to visit Shawn and her girls. sometimes we went to visit Hans. Sometimes we went to visit Stefan.

Shawn married Bob. Their marriage was intense, loving, and brief. Bob was diagnosed with brain cancer shortly before their wedding. He was a good man. I only met him once or twice, but I liked him.

People started to leave. Bob succumbed to the cancer after a valiant fight. Delphia died from dementia. Mark shot himself. Tom died in a house fire at the very end of 2015. He and Hans had been sharing the farm house in Calvert after Delphia passed away. The house burned to the ground while Hans was away working in the oil fields.

Karin and I still traveled to Bryan. Shawn moved from her house to a variety of places. She is still nomadic. Maire moved to Oregon with her husband, Jon. Roise had a baby girl, Lani. The pieces on the board kept moving, but the chessboard has always remained Bryan.

Now we’re here again. Hans married Gabby last Friday. Karin and I are babysitting their seven month old, Weston. We will be going home to Wisconsin in a few days.

I am certain that we will be back.

 

 

 

Talking Smack

July 24th, 2019

I stopped to talk to one of Hans’ neighbors yesterday. Actually, he wanted to talk with me. I’m not sure why. He was in his driveway, burning a cigarette, and he started telling me his life story. The narrative was intriguing, but some of the events he described seemed, well, unlikely. Whatever. I have also tales that sound improbable.

What interested me was when the guy started talking about the future. He got enthusiastic while speaking about it. He said,

“Yeah, you know, I’ve been thinking about getting with some like-minded people, and living off the land. I have a garden in the back. Talk about a green thumb! I can’t even kill a plant! I could grow the food, and other people could do different kinds of work. One guy could do carpentry. Maybe have a blacksmith.”

He went on, “We could get us some acres of land, and get away from all this government stuff.”

Please note that Hans’ neighbor is an IT guy for the City of Bryan, Texas. He works for the local government. Even he saw the irony in that. The man is also a huge fan of the military, despite the inconvenient fact the U.S. military is part of the federal government.

I considered his plan. Well, actually, it’s not a plan. It’s more like a fantasy at this point. I don’t believe that he has really thought this through, at all.

The basic idea is nothing new. Some people have always renounced the world, and tried to escape from a vile and corrupt society. There were the Essenes of Qumran (i.e. the folks with the Dead Sea Scrolls) and Hindu sannyasis. Sometimes these attempts went well. Benedict of Nursia started a monastic order that has lasted for fifteen centuries. On the end of the spectrum are the Charles Manson family, and the folks at Jonestown who drank the Kool-Aid. Things can go very badly.

I am always leery when a person says that he or she wants to be with “like-minded people”. That implies that they don’t want their opinions challenged. They just want their beliefs to be reinforced. Also, the desire to be with like-minded people never seems to work out. At some point a person learns that the “like-minded” acquaintance doesn’t agree on some issues, and life becomes unpleasant for everyone involved.

I have spent a little time at Catholic Worker farms, just a couple visits. The people living in those communities try to distance themselves from corporate America, with its consumerism and militarism. The Catholic Workers succeed to a certain extent. My impression from my very limited experience with these farms is that they require an immense amount of work. The members of these communities have to disciplined, selfless, and dedicated to the common good. I could never do what they do day in and day out. No way.

I am sure it is possible for a group of people to start a new life away from mainstream society. People live off the grid today, but there aren’t many of them. I suspect that this type of existence will become more difficult as time goes on. Centuries ago, people could more easily live in isolation. Most of the population had the same skill set, which was some sort of farming. Now people have very specialized skills that only have value in a complex urban setting. How hard would be for the IT tech to go back to subsistence farming? Close to impossible.

Will Hans’ neighbor eventually live off the land? Maybe he can. Maybe he’s right.

Maybe he’s just talking smack.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weston

July 21st, 2019

Karin is holding Weston. His chubby cheeks are resting on her shoulder. She just finished feeding him some pureed sweet potatoes. He likes sweet potatoes, but Weston tends to wear them more often than he actually eats them. He’s crying a bit. I think he’s bloated. He will probably have a massive burp soon. Once Weston relieves some of the pressure, I am pretty sure that he will crash suddenly. He has that tired, whiny kind of cry. When he falls asleep, Karin will know because Weston will turn into a bag of jello.

Weston is generally a happy boy, but not right now. He is remarkably alert and observant. He is a sensory sponge. He soaks all that is happening around him. He’s fascinated by everything, and we’re fascinated by him.

It just happened. Weston is asleep. It was liking turning off a light switch. I don’t know where Weston went, but he is no longer with us. Karin will hold him for a while. Hans and Gabi should be home soon. The “A” team can take over.

Usually, Weston is okay with me holding him, although now would not be a good time to switch out with Karin. When I hold him, he gets a death grip on my beard. When I eventually pry his fingers loose from my facial hair, he always has several strands of it  in his little fist. He is rather strong for his age.

It’s odd. Sometimes Weston looks exactly like Hans did when was seven months old. Then other times he looks like Gabi. I guess heredity is like that. Weston has the same round head and copper-colored hair that Hans had all those years ago. He has Gabi’s nose. His eyes are still a dark blue.

Gabi said to me, “I wonder what color his eyes will be.”

I told her, “Bloodshot.”

She didn’t like that answer.

 

 

Wedding

July 20th, 2019

“Suffocated by mirrors, stained by dreams
Her honey belly pulls the seams
Curves are stiff upon the hinge
Pale zeros tinge the tiger skin
Moist as grass, ripe and heavy as the night
The sponge is full, well out of sight
All around the conversations
Icing on the warm flesh cake
Light creeps through her secret tunnels
Sucked into the open spaces
Burning out in sudden flashes
Draining blood from well-fed faces
Desires form in subtle whispers
Flex the muscles in denial
Up and down its pristine cage
So the music, so the trial
Vows of sacrifice, headless chickens
Dance in circles, they the blessed
Man and wife, undressed by all
Their grafted trunks in heat possessed
Even as the soft skins tingle
They mingle with the homeless mother
Who loves the day but lives another
That once was hers
The worried father, long lost lover
Brushes ashes with his broom
Rehearses jokes to fly and hover
Bursting over the bride and groom

And the talk goes on
Memories crash on tireless waves
The lifeguards whom the winter saves
Silence falls the guillotine
All the doors are shut
Nervous hands grip tight the knife
In the darkness, till the cake is cut

Passed around, in little pieces
The body and the flesh
The family and the fishing-net
And another in the mesh
The body and the flesh”

Peter Gabriel from “The Family and the Fishing Net”

 

The best part of the wedding was the opportunity to hold Weston in my arms. He is seven months old today. His mama dressed him up in a little outfit for the ceremony. He had on a shirt, a bow tie, and some tight, black pants that just fit over his diaper. Weston looked at the world with wonder, trying to understand what was happening all around him.

The adults did exactly the same thing.

As far as weddings go, things were very simple for Gabi and Hans yesterday. Most weddings, at least in the U.S., are elaborate affairs, planned with the precision and thoroughness usually reserved for a space shuttle launch. In most cases, I think that the preparations for the event overwhelm the wedding itself. The actually marriage is actually anticlimactic, almost a letdown.

Hans is not the best at long term planning. Karin and I found out the date of the wedding three weeks ago. This is not necessarily Hans’ fault. He had to get the marriage license (which only lasts for 90 days), and then he and Gabi had to set up the date with the justice of the peace that they wanted to officiate. A wedding has a lot of moving parts, regardless of how uncomplicated the party involved would like it to be. A wedding, by its very nature, is chaotic. It is never just about two people. It is a maelstrom that sucks in various other persons, and it sucks in the histories of all those persons.

Often the two people planning to wed dream of celebrating the perfect day, a day that will be start a perfect life together. They look forward to some ideal joy in an ideal future. Those folks are doomed to disappointment. We were blessed by the fact that Gabi and Hans already know the reality of a relationship. They had been there, done that. The marriage of Gabi and Hans was not about a dream. It was a declaration to the world that they would continue to persevere in their relationship, regardless of the troubles involved. Hans and Gabi and Weston are in it for the long haul.

I am old. I can feel that every day. My memories shift and flow.

Hans and Gabi’s wedding was never just about Hans and Gabi. It couldn’t be. During the small reception at Brenda’s house, we easily and automatically spoke of weddings from years ago. Karin and I will be married for 35 years on August 11th. Karin had pictures on her phone from our wedding in Germany all those years ago. We were young then. Now we’re not. We are now in the place of Max and Erika, Karin’s parents. We look back at our past with a bit of sadness, but we look forward to their future. Weston is part of their future, so we cling to him.

I slept while Gabi’s family came to visit, prior to the wedding.

It was probably the best thing that I could do.

The people who came to Gabi’s house were all women. Karin connected with them. It is unlikely that I would have been able to do so. Honestly, men are superfluously at a wedding. We just are.

A wedding in July. It was hot. Insanely hot. Okay, maybe natives of Texas might be okay with the environment, but I did not meet any locals who enjoyed the weather. It was brutal.

There was confusion when we arrived at the justice of the peace. There were people that did not show up for the ceremony because they got lost or whatever. Confusion at a wedding is just a taste of the afterlife. Once the couple takes their vows, it just gets crazier.

The actual wedding lasted maybe five minutes. It was blip on the screen, although it was a necessary blip. It needed to happen. Hans was there in his shiny blue shirt, silver vest,  and old jeans. Gabi was there in her white dress. They promised things to each other. They meant them.

The justice of the peace did a good job. He wore his long black robes over his running shoes. I don’t remember all that he said. I do remember that he finished by saying,

“By the power invested in me by the GREAT STATE OF TEXAS, I now pronounce you husband and wife!”

Karin and I were the only people there from Hans’ side of the family. That’s just how it goes sometimes. When Karin and I got married all those years ago, nobody from my family could be there and/or wanted to be there. Maybe it was better so. If my parents had come to Germany for the wedding, I expect that my father would have just bitched about things, because that is what he usually did. In an odd way it was liberating to be married without my family.

The reception was at Brenda’s house. Brenda and Jim are old friends of Hans from back when Hans worked in the oil fields. Jim couldn’t be there, although Hans really wanted him to be. Jim had to go back to work in Midland, which is a desolate oil town in west Texas. However, Brenda invited everybody into their home for a small party.

William came with his wife, Ginger, from Iola to the reception. This was a good thing, since William brought most of the food. He spent hours and hours cooking a brisket. The brisket rocked. We ate the meat, along with potato salad and a herring salad that I had made. It was a quiet party. People sat around and talked. The happy couple cut the cake they got from Sam’s Club, and we all shared it with them. My piece made my pancreas hurt.

The party ended early. Karin and I went home with Gabi, Hans, and Weston. We relaxed and watched a movie about Freddie Mercury, “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

I held Weston for a while. He rested his head on my shoulder.

That was the best part of the wedding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh God

July 19th, 2019

“Oh God, come to my assistance. Oh lord, make haste to help me.” – the beginning of the 69th Psalm.

On Wednesday, Karin and I attended vespers, the traditional evening prayer, with the monks at Subiaco Abbey. They began the prayer with the verse that begins the 69th Psalm. That’s a good way to start, a very good way. The Augustinian priests at our church used to start their communal prayers in the same manner. When I recited that particular verse with them, it always came from my heart. It was also heartfelt when we were with the Benedictines at Subiaco.

Subiaco is familiar ground. Karin and I visit there whenever we are travelling between our home in Wisconsin and our family members in Texas. Subiaco Abbey lies in the Arkansas River Valley, at the foot of the Ozarks, near Fort Smith on the Oklahoma border. The monastery is a good place for us to stop and rest on that absurdly long road trip. We generally stay there for two nights and a day. It’s a peaceful place, and beautiful in a quiet, unassuming way. We started going there twenty years ago. Subiaco hasn’t changed much, although we have.

I don’t know how many monks reside at Subiaco. It’s hard to tell. I am guessing that thirty men are there on a regular basis. Most of them are old. That was obvious when Karin and I were there at vespers. Most of the monks had grey hair, or no hair. There were several men using walkers, and at least two of them were in wheel chairs. It was striking for me to see elderly monks being pushed along by men my age, and I am not young.

This is not to say that that there are no younger monks. There are only a few, and that is the problem. I did not see enough young monks in their black robes to replace those who are on their way out. At the prayer service, we saw three very young men in attendance. They were in civilian clothing, and I am guessing that they were postulants, guys who are just testing out the lifestyle to find out if it is for them.

At the end of the service, we all prayed for more vocations. We prayed that more young men would join the monks at Subiaco. I have ambivalent feelings about that petition. I understand that for the community of Benedictines at Subiaco it is a matter of life and death for it to get new blood. Many religious orders are withering away because they cannot get new members. Monasteries and friaries that were once bustling with activity are now empty and silent.

Why is that?

I don’t know the answer to the question, although I have some ideas.

The Catholic Church, like other religious institutions, leans heavily on tradition. There is an emphasis on continuity. We used Gregorian chant to sing the psalms at vespers. Okay, we sang them in English, and not in Latin, but the monks were still following a pattern that stretches back for centuries. There is nothing wrong with that. In a way, it is impressive to be among people who have a living history, especially in a world that suffers from amnesia. Time is a continuum. Sometimes, we need to connect with the past to build a future.

It bothers me that the Benedictines might want to attract very young men. That implies that they want to bring immature people into their ranks. I understand that idea. The Army did the same thing with me. They seem to want men whom they can mold and shape. That can be a recipe for disaster. Why not recruit men who have lived a little? Maybe, look at guys who have had a girlfriend, or a career, or a passion. Look for men who have seen the world, and now want to retreat from it. Why go for somebody with no life experience?

Unfortunately, religious institutions oft times forget that once, long ago, they were scary and threatening innovations. In the days of the late Roman Empire, St. Benedict and his small group of followers were a new and unexpected movement of monasticism, one that probably saved the West during the Dark Ages. The Franciscans were considered crazy back in the 13th century, and they are actually pretty radical even now. The Holy Spirit makes all things new. and that generally annoys people.

New wine into new wineskins. – Matthew 9:14-17

Maybe the old has to pass away. It does anyway, no matter what we do. Subiaco, in its present form, may cease to exist someday. That will be a cause for sadness, but perhaps something better will replace it.

While we were at Subiaco, Karin and I ate our meals with a group of teenagers who were there for a church camp. They all wore t-shirts that said “The Tribe: Student Ministry”. Like it or not, these kids are the future. I am not. You are not. These young people will create a new world, like it or not. I listened to them talk. They are sometimes silly, and often quite clueless. So what? I am too.

The Benedictines have survived so long by reinventing themselves over and over again. The Catholic Church has done the same thing. All living things do that.

Maybe, some day, there will be no more monks.

Maybe there will be something better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cold Feet

July 13th, 2019

Prayer of the Refugee

from Rise Against

“Warm yourself by the fire, son
And the morning will come soon
I’ll tell you stories of a better time
In a place that we once knew

Before we packed our bags
And left all this behind us in the dust
We had a place that we could call home
And a life no one could touch

Don’t hold me up now
I can stand my own ground
I don’t need your help now
You will let me down, down, down!
Don’t hold me up now
I can stand my own ground
I don’t need your help now
You will let me down, down, down!

We are the angry and the desperate
The hungry, and the cold
We’re the ones who kept quiet
And always did what we were told

But we’ve been sweating while you slept so calm
In the safety of your home
We’ve been pulling out the nails that hold up
Everything you’ve known

Don’t hold me up now
I can stand my own ground
I don’t need your help now
You will let me down, down, down!
Don’t hold me up now
I can stand my own ground
I don’t need your help now
You will let me down, down, down!

So open your eyes, child
Let’s be on our way
Broken windows and ashes
Are guiding the way

Keep quiet no longer
We’ll sing through the day
Of the lives that we’ve lost
And the lives we’ve reclaimed

Don’t hold me up now
I can stand my own ground
I don’t need your help now
You will let me down, down, down!
Don’t hold me up now
I can stand my own ground
I don’t need your help now
You will let me down, down, down!

Don’t hold me up
(I don’t need your help, I’ll stand my ground)
Don’t hold me up
(I don’t need your help)
No! No! No!
Don’t hold me up!
(I don’t need your help, I’ll stand my ground)
Don’t hold me up!
(I don’t need your help, I’ll stand my ground)
Don’t let me down, down, down, down, down!”

Turki is a good man. I need to say that up front. He is the father of eleven children, and he does his very best to care for them. He’s done a good job so far, better than I could ever do. He took his entire family out of war torn Syria, and he managed to get them into the United States, after a short stay in Turkey. Turki and his wife, A’isha, are a team. They are solid. Turki is in many ways a model refugee in this country: he’s smart, hardworking, and honorable.

However…

Turki is stuck. It’s not his fault. It just is. When he came to this piece of America, he got a job at a Muslim school doing janitorial work. He found himself working inside of an Arabic cocoon. At the school everyone speaks Arabic, so he has learned very little English in the last two years. Since he started working at the school, Turki has not received a raise. This is a problem. He needs more money.

A couple weeks ago, Turki asked me to help him to find a better job. I have tried to help him to find other work. It has not gone well. Turki is reluctant to put himself out there. I understand how he feels. I know how it is to live in a foreign land. I know how scary it is.

On the other hand, there is no other way to get a job in America. A person has to be vulnerable and frightened over and over again to find work. That’s how we do it here. Turki doesn’t know how to find work in this country. He can’t fill out a job application. He can’t write up a resume. He can’t talk himself through an interview.

On Monday, I texted both Turki and his wife. I had it set up for Turki to take an entrance exam for the Laborers Union in Milwaukee. I was willing to take him there early on Tuesday morning. I got a text back from A’isha that it was all good. She said that I should come to get Turki on Tuesday morning. I was actually a bit surprised that Turki was going to follow through with this.

He didn’t.

I got a text late on Monday evening saying that Turki couldn’t make it to the test.

Yeah, whatever.

I was pissed off. I had made arrangements to get Turki to a test that could easily have gotten his foot in the door for a construction job. At the last minute, he got cold feet. He had decided, for whatever reason, to stay within his comfort zone. That’s okay. He can do that. But he has to do it without me.

I have spent the week angry about all this. Does it affect me personally? No, I could easily write off this family immediately. I don’t owe them anything.

My contact at Workforce Development told me that Turki and his family could possibly qualify for state money as refugees. I went to their house this afternoon to tell them about it. I was ready to be a hard ass about it, and tell them to get their act together.

Turki was there, but not A’isha. I tried to explain to him through his son, Ibrahim, how it worked. Turki could get money from Wisconsin, but he had to apply for it in person. He didn’t like that. He couldn’t understand.

Ibrahim told me, “He wants somebody to come with him.”

I replied sadly, “I can’t do that now. My wife and I are going to Texas for our son’s wedding. I can go with your father in August, if he wants that.”

Ibrahim nodded, “Yes, he wants you to come with him.”

Then Turki said to me, “Sit down. Stay for a while.”

I didn’t want to do that. I was frustrated. I made to leave.

Turki followed me out the door.

He said to me, “You go to Texas. I say to you, ‘Ma a’salama’. ” (That is: “peace be with you”.)

I turned abruptly, and asked Turki, “Do you still want a better job?”

He told me, “Yes, yes, I need a job with more money.”

I looked hard at Turki and said, “You need to take an English class. You can’t get a good job without English.”

He nodded, “Yes, I know. Maybe, maybe, you help me learn more English?”

I sighed, “Yes, I do that.”

Turki smiled at me. “Thank you, Frank.”

I felt like crying.

I suddenly realized that I can’t cut these people loose. I am going to help them (somehow) no matter what else happens. I can’t turn my back on them.