Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Prequel - "Where's the girl?!"

Greetings all,
This is a note about the not-so-recent past. Think of it as a prequel that doesn't require you to sit in a dark theater, or eat popcorn. Feel free to do those things, though, if you think it'll help. Feel free to skip this post and come back another time for something more to your liking... Hey, it could happen! Future posts will deal with life as I experience it (whoa!), and the beauty that is all around us, which lately means music, chanting workshops, recording sessions, 176 high school boys, how to bless one another and ourselves, hundreds of tiny baby apricots, and the peonies, which are now advertising for ants, to begin work immediately, to help meet the late May deadline.

But first, a word about where I've been hiding since early 2006, which past life regression was prompted by one email and two comments by former patrons just this week. It's been two years since I've heard from any of them. In January of 2006, I was dismissed from my former employment as chief bartender, spiritual director, and asst. manager of the Episcopal Book/Resource Center in the city of New York. For about 15 years, I toiled, wondered, laughed, cried, held my tongue with many people, and helped at least a few to find their way in to a deeper relationship with themselves, God and everyone else. I sought and bought the best books available on important topics related to the care and spiritual feeding of God's children on this fragile earth our island home. Then, I'd match up the books with the right people and vice versa. I loved the work, the people, and dealt with whomever God sent through the door. It's a deal I made with God a long time ago. It's made for an interesting life so far.

In 2004, there was a building renovation planned, and we were told that we'd have to move the store to the basement for a while, but that my job was safe. My partner had a brain aneurysm right before Thanksgiving 2005 and had been home from the hospital for less than a month when I was asked to come upstairs and told that my job was no longer my job. This seems to be the way of the world for many, especially lately, but one might expect an institution like a church to hold its people to a higher standard. I seem to recall something about not bearing false witness in my studies, but it doesn't seem to apply to people in the fulfillment of their institutional roles. It took a while to get over the pain of losing that particular job, and for months afterward, I heard there was a big fuss over the decision, which helped my morale, until the health insurance ran out four months later...

There are some patrons I still hear from, and some I miss running into: clergy and DRE's who bought books for their flock for book groups and Bible studies on a regular basis; folks who lived in the congregational development section because they wanted to improve their communities; the ones who lived in the spirituality section because they wanted to give people as much practical knowledge as they could about God and neighbor; the people who lived in the pastoral care section because they needed to take care of the fragile in their midst and/or the fragile in themselves; and all the the other broken, arrogant, certain, mean, sweet, clueless, overwhelmed, tired, happy just to be there, and entirely holy humans (some of you radiate beauty). Heschel said: Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy." Amen.

I also truly/madly/deeply miss all of the precious jewels who helped to further my compassion practice, some by lying to my face, and to store patrons about my job status and future plans for the store. Then there was the bishop who asked "If you were a woman, what color Bible would you like?" I was so taken aback that I looked him straight in the eye and said "First of all, I am a woman, and second of all, not all women like the same color! It wasn't my finest hour, but we became friends. He saw me a couple of weeks ago at St. Paul's Chapel in NYC, came over and gave me a big hug. He looks a lot more relaxed since he retired. There was a woman for whom I opened the door after hours so she could prove the old adage "No good deed goes unpunished."
I am a calmer person, and much more patient; you were my teachers, and I thank you all.

One of the people who forced me to realize the depth of service often required (and mostly overlooked) was the loud, half blind and partially deaf old man who came in every other month or so for at least five years to look at Bibles; he monopolized my time, energy and patience, and the patience of everyone in the store because he was SO LOUD. He always took an hour, and never bought a thing, until the last time I saw him, when his shoes were so holey it was a wonder they stayed on his feet. He asked for me by yelling "Where's the girl?! She can help me! My colleague, Constancio De Jesus (and he is) told me "That one will get you your wings." I'd have settled for a new pair of shoes for the guy. He wanted a Bible to leave to his daughter when he died. I sold him one. I still think about him, looking down, yelling "Hey, I want a Bible!"

There was an endless stream of people for whom I know my presence in that store made a difference, and about whom I wonder and still pray for: the woman who came in on her first day back to work after having had a miscarriage, looking for a book on how to deal with it. We cried through the entire transaction. There were people who came in to find books, either for themselves or their loved ones, to deal with the death or impending death of a parent, child, sibling, or friend. There were some who just thought it was a good bookstore. There were people who came in to calm down after they'd been treated badly by their bosses; that's when I felt like a bartender, serving up good books and therapeutic music.

Nowadays I spend a great deal of time listening for that still, small voice to tell me what's needed for the task at hand. This month, I'm doing it in the recording studio. Who knows how anything will turn out? Our God is a very quirky God. I'll let you know what I know as soon as I can articulate it (which is not nearly as soon as I know it, usually). Thanks for reading, and enjoy your week.


  1. Good to see you here -- I am one who relied on you to help me find the right book - even when I did not know that I needed a right book!! I don't shop there any more - they don't know me. Blessings as new doors open and hope they pay well with health insurance - is that door #3 or ???.

  2. Hey, here you are! I wondered where you went. The door is always open at RB for you and your honey to take some time away. Good to know you are doing well.

  3. So this is what blogs are for! Thanks, as ever, for the generosity with which you share you life. Missing you in New Mexico, too.

  4. Do you ever look back at your blogs? I hope you do so that you see this! Every time I enter the doors at 815 I miss you. The "powers that be" turned the magical, wonderful, bookstore you co-presided over into junk -- the number and variety of books is so slim, the food when it was still there, was not worth eating and expensive to boot (it at least bit the dust). I keep hoping that someone will see the error of their ways and bring back the place you described -- where people could find what they didn't even know they were looking for and where you helped them find what they new they needed. Bartender, indeed! Just what the doctor ordered in this crazy mixed-up world.

  5. I'm a latecomer to your blog Ana. I can identify greatly with this post about, being a woman myself. Real women like red bibles, no? Thanks for y our humor and your music.