The menu was straight up Ireland: Corned beef (soaked in 2 pints of Guinness), boiled onions, potatoes and rutabagas. Boiled cabbage. Rye bread slathered in Irish butter.
The guests were mostly California transplants. They came via serendipitous routes to Oregon, followings spouses, or children, or chasing a lifestyle more healthy, less congested than that offered in Santa Clara or San Diego. Some went to Austin first. Others to Iraq.
Every single one of them had a military connection. One was a Vietnam veteran. One was an Iraq veteran. One was a counselor at the Vet Center. One was a Gold Star brother. One was a volunteer at the Vet Center. One marches with Vets for Peace.
Several were educators. Designers of curriculum. Innovators. Thinkers. Readers. Inspirational.
There was wine, white and red. Guinness, stout and smooth.
There were stories in every corner of the room. The Vet Center counselor had almost applied for a job in Yountville, at the Veteran Homes where three women were recently killed by a gunman suffering PTSD. She, in fact, had a friend who did apply at the time she thought about it. He, however, was home sick that Friday. Otherwise… who knows?
It’s terrible. Tragic.
The politics of Veterans organizations not lost on me. The difficulties faced when civilians, independent contractors, are put in supervisory positions over military personnel. The monies wasted. The clawing for power. The heartbreak of the families in need.
He was drafted, the Vietnam veteran. Not a career military. Fighting in a war he neither started, nor believed in.
She’s been arrested numerous times, the local gal in the pig-tales with the TUCK TRUMP button pinned to her yellow hat. She wears the buttons – there’s a TAX THE RICH one, too – wherever she goes. Even in Tucson, at the bakery, where a Trump supporter wanted to know what the ITMFA stood for. She wouldn’t tell him, careful not to be unkind. But her friend, who knew the answer shouted it out: Impeach the Mother F***king A**Hole.
I love fearless people, of any shape, size, color or age. I find that courage seems to come with age. It isn’t the devil-may-care-attitude associated with rebellious teens, so much, as it is an attitude that says, Life Matters. What we do with our time matters. What values we hold, matters. Be a warrior of the light, Oprah Winfrey admonishes. As the darkness presses in, be a warrior of the light.
Figuring out how to best do that, that’s the real trick.
I don’t need a button for most people to know where I stand. Fear does not haunt me at this age, the way it did in my youth. I couldn’t tell you why, exactly. God? Experiences? Having already faced a lot of darkness? Having realized that the light is often more dull than blinding?
I admire people so much. The things they’ve lived through. The wisdom they’ve gleaned. The hope in humanity, in each other, in a Creator.
In this world.
She, the woman with the buttons, knows every river and waterfall and backroad in this region. The roadmap etched into the lines around her eyes, her smile. Her hands, weathered and strong, like her legs, although, she, herself is a slip of a woman, Petite, the salesclerk would call her. But her aura, no mistaking that, encases the power of a tidal wave.
The beautiful blonde woman wore a glittering green-and-gold beret given to her that morning by a man she’d just met. An act of a Persian, perhaps, she offered, on this St. Patrick’s Day? She had admired it the minute she saw it, and told him so. He took it off his head and placed it on hers. Yours. now.
We are a people prone to it.
In ourselves. In others. Wherever.
We are grateful whenever we encounter it.
Her t-shirt told the story of her birth: March girls are sunshine mixed with a little bit of hurricane.
We could all do with more sunshine and less hurricane these days, heh?
Have you ever noticed that you can see who are warriors of light just by studying a person’s eyes?
You can see the darkness of a person on their face as well: The look on their faces testifies against them and they declare their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to their soul! For they have dealt out evil to themselves. Isaiah 3:9
I saw the light in his eyes, right way. Not just his eyes but all over him. We met a couple of months ago, just up the road a’piece, and discovered we were neighbors, within a stone’s throw of each other. He can see my front door out his back door.
The day I painted it orange, he walked over, asked if I’d come to dinner. A real Irish dinner, he warned. Of course! I said.
Bring your husband, too, he said.
Tim already knew about this fellow. I had told him and all the kids the day we met that I had met the most beautiful and elegant man.
He looked a good 20 years younger than he really is. He is tall and handsome enough to be a movie star. In fact, over dinner, he pulled out the portfolio from his days as a model. And the photo of him with actress Betty White, with whom he starred. In jeans and a cowboy hat, he favors Ted Turner. But in his day-to-day wear, he favors George Clooney’s father. White hair. Bright eyes. Generous, dimpled smile.
Growing up, his was a large family. Eight kids. There were nine, but they don’t talk much about the one who was stillborn. He was 10 when his older brother – 18 – was killed in Okinawa. World War II.
For over a month, the letters his mother wrote her boy kept being returned with the words: DECEASED stamped onto them.
There had been no official word of death. No telegram. No official notice of any sort. Just those letters stamped: DECEASED.
His mother implored the Red Cross: Is my son alive or dead?
It took them nearly six weeks before they verified her worst fears.
His father, a minister, was brokenhearted as well.
Have you been to the World War II Memorial in DC? I asked.
No, he said, but I would like to.
Yes, it’s beautiful, I add.
When we met, I told him to stop by someday, have a glass of wine with me.
He motioned me close and whispered to me: I am married to a man.
He had read up on me. Knew that I was a woman of faith. He was unsure as to how his relationship might be perceived by me.
So? I replied. I don’t care. Bring your husband. C’mon over.
His husband is the Vietnam veteran.
These days, in a nation polarized by homosexuality, race, abortion, by a manic intentionally dividing us, one can never be sure how one might be received if one’s truth is known.
Can I trust you with my truth?
That seems to be the question we all seek assurance for.
Can I trust that you will care for me if you really know me?
It’s the question we put before God every single day.
Can I trust you to love me, even though?
And God always answers in the affirmative: Absolutely.
But people, well, they balk. Unwilling to love that which is different from them. The Other.
It made me sad the way this elegant man felt the need to warn me, just in case I was one of those kind of God-seekers. The kind that feels the need to codify people according to sexuality, race, their own version of what is acceptable.
I have a writer friend who no longer calls herself a Christian because certain people have co-opted the term and applied it for political gain.
So she calls herself a Jesus follower.
I quit using the term Christian a decade ago. Probably for some of the same reasons. I refer to myself as a woman of faith.
Because I do have faith in God. I do believe in being a warrior of light. I do believe in being fearless, even in the face of the dark-hearted. I do believe that Jesus redeems and reconciles, not only people but the entire earth.
I do believe goodness will win out over evil.
I don’t believe, however, in gated communities with gold streets where people are kept in or out based upon whether they measure up to some corrupt system built upon misogyny and racism, bigotry and fear.
As a woman of faith what I believe is summed up pretty succinctly in Micah 6:8: You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.
I do love goodness, and whenever, whereever I find it, I celebrate it.
Goodness, it turns out, happens to abide right here in my neighborhood.
Not just on St. Patrick’s Day but everyday of the year.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of CHRISTIAN BEND: Mercer University Press.