Monday, September 30, 2013

Two Hobos & Two Monks From Australia Walk Into a Bar. . .

. . . Ok, so it wasn't a bar.  And they weren't all together.  But they all did play a role in my life this weekend. As my friend John pointed out to me the other day, "life is strange."  And it seems I have a knack for getting myself into strange situations.

Here, let me set the scene.  It's 5:10 on a Saturday in Boston, and I am somewhere between power-walking and jogging towards the bus terminal at South Station.  I've got a big ol' reusable shopping bag slung over one shoulder, filled with all sorts of clothing I can't actually wear this weekend because they're potential costume pieces for my show.  No, there is nothing practical in my giant bag.

No, I don't have a ticket yet.

Yes, this trip is impromptu.  

No, it wasn't well planned.  Gypsy life, ok guys?

As I approach the terminal, I move swiftly passed the assorted homeless, beggars, and other impoverished who often crowd that final stretch of street. I hurry towards my destination, trying to ignore the poverty around me that tugs at my heart, but I can't help but notice a man digging through the trash barrel by the side entrance of the terminal. My stomach sinks when I notice that he hasn't got a bag with returnables in it, which means his goal in riffling through the trash can only be one other thing. I move briskly past him but turn to look over my shoulder in time to see him pull a McDonald's bag from the trash.

As I climb the stairs to the purchasing area of the terminal, I can smell the McDonald's upstairs in the food court, the same location the man outside's scavenged dinner no doubt originated: the greasy smell strikes me as a sharp, pitiful contrast to the mental image of the man looking for a few cold bites of the disregarded fast food in the garbage.  I tell myself if I miss my bus (which is probable, it departs in less than ten minutes and I haven't purchased my ticket yet) I will go to the McDonald's and buy the man a value meal so he can at least have warm fast food.

Instead of making me feel better, the idea immediately makes me feel awful.  In what world is my surprise, impromptu day off full of comfort and convenience more important than another human being literally starving outside?  If it takes me missing my bus in order to do the right thing, than I don't deserve to ever catch another bus again.  I turn around, and head back down the stairs, open my wallet and pull out the few dollars I have left, and give them to the man with a request that he buy himseld something hot to eat.  I don't know if he'll spend it on food, or if it will got to booze or cigarettes or something else.  I do know that he was a grown man eating cold french fries out of a trash barrel, and I couldn't stomach walking away. And that the look of shock on his face, shock that another human being would reach out to him, will haunt me for the rest of my life.

Well, now naturally, I missed my bus. I purchased a ticket for a later trip, and then headed over to the McDonalds.  I know it seems foolish, but I kept imagining what it would be like for that man - dirty, and yes smelly, and bearded, and clearly homeless - to stand in line and wait for his food.  The looks, and the judgement, and the suspicion from security guards at bare minimum. . . so I grabbed a chicken sandwich and brought it to him.  I started to walk back towards where the trains come in to South Station, deciding to buy myself a slice of pizza at the big food court while I waited for my bus.  As I started on this leg of my journey, I noticed a man in grey.  A grey robe, to be specific, with a shaved head and a long beard and a pair of sandals on his feet.  Clearly, he was a Franciscan monk.  He looked a little lost, but I figured he'd be fine.  God knows there are enough Catholic Churches in Boston and he probably knew where he was going and I was really hungry . . . . and then he stopped and looked around, and the next thing I knew. . .

Me: "Excuse me.  Are you lost?"
Franciscan One: "Sort of . . ."
Me: "Sort of?  I take it, by your accent you're not from around here?"
Franciscan One: "No, me and my brother" - indicates back towards the terminal - "are here for four months visiting a brother in Roxbury.  I believe we're supposed to meet someone here, but I have no idea where exactly 'here' is other than being in the southern part of Boston."
Me: "Do you know how to contact the person you're meeting, brother?"
Second Franciscan approaches cheerfully, introduces himself as actually being a priest within the order, and says: "Yes we have a number but unfortunately, being. . ."
Me: ". . . Franciscans and having no personal property, you have absolutely no way of contacting them." *pulls out phone* *hopes they aren't very clever thieves* *judges self for thinking so poorly and suspiciously of two men of the cloth* *remembers Church scandals* *chides self again for painting with a broad brush* *and for being paranoid* *hands over phone*

As Franciscan One makes his phone call (well, I had to do the actual dialing) a homeless man approaches us, pulls off his knit cap, and crosses himself.  He waits patiently until the phone conversation is complete, crosses himself again, and asks each friar for his blessing in turn.  I immediately feel as though I could cry, watching this gentle yet fervent display of faith, but before any tears can reach my eyes (I'm a sucker ok?) the homeless man turns to me.  And he is not looking for a blessing.  He abruptly begins to shout, admonishing me for being a sinner, a slut, a jezebel, a daughter of the devil himself.  How dare I stand in front of holy men dressed the way I am - which for the record, is jeans, a t-shirt, and a pair of toms.  The thing that earns this man's ire (and is "why the world is becoming a hell-pit") is my shirt, a comfortable t-shirt I sometimes wear for rehearsals, which has the collar cut off: at this particular moment, you can see one of my shoulders, and across it, my bra strap. The man's outrage continues to build and I note that our strange group - keep in mind, we're a 20-something girl, two foreign monks in full robes, and a hollering homeless man - is drawing attention.  The Franciscans step between me and the man, and admonish him for yelling at me, and for passing judgement, and firmly inform him that is not "the Lord's will or work," and that as a matter of fact, I had just done an act of charity (which is when I get my phone back).

The Franciscans then walk me into the main hub of South Station, so I can finally grab my slice of pizza. Before they leave, I open my mouth to ask for their blessing, but before I can speak the first brother has raised his hand and made the Sign of the Cross over me, while the second brother smiles and says something I don't think I'll ever forget: "Blessings are more than gestures, little sister.  Blessings should be deeds.  You have as much power to bless as I."

I watch the brothers walk away, back to where their ride (in theory) is meeting them.  Then I turn and head to the pizza counter to purchase my lunch/dinner, which I will now have to do with my credit card since I'm out of cash.  While I look at the variety of pies, the cheerful, mustachioed, heavily-accented man behind the counter makes small talk with me, and when I say "Could I have a slice of this one?" he replies "Eeeeehhhhh, maybe. . . " so I try again "May I have a slice of that one, please?" "HHhmmm, better but eh, I'm very busy," and so forth.  Each slice I ask for he jokingly turns down all the while taking the pizza, pulling out my slice, and packaging it neatly up.  Finally I figure out the trick - "Per favore? Posso?" "Please? May I?" I ask, and he laughs so hard his mustache shakes and hands over my meal.  As I take the bag that should contain my slice of pizza and a drink, I note the extra weight.  "Scusa?" (excuse me?) I hold up the bag and tell him I think he made a mistake, that he gave me an extra slice.  The man smiles at me and says "No mistake: I hope the extra slice will bring me an extra blessing.  You must be a special girl, I figure: I saw the Franciscans give you care when they brought you in.  Maybe I think it's smart for me to give extra care too."  Immediately humbled - and thinking of the brother's words about blessings - I thank him and walk away, suddenly strangely grateful to have missed "my" bus.

It isn't until after that I look at my receipt and see he didn't charge me for either slice, only for the soda.

"Blessings should be deeds."

Saturday, September 21, 2013

She Said I Think I'll Go To Boston. . .

. . . I think I'll start a new life, I think I'll start it over, where no one knows my name.
-"Boston," by Augustana

So that's exactly what she did.  Hello there, friends.  I know, I know.  It's been awhile - months, on fact.  If you've ever read my blog before and are here now, faithfully checking in, I thank you.  Deeply and truly from the bottom of my heart for your loyalty to me and my little corner of the internet.  And if you're new, welcome!  I hope you'll stay around and share in the adventure.  I also think if you're a long time follower, it is time to be candid - and if you're new, it's always a good idea to start a relationship of any kind with real honesty, right?

So.  Where have I been?  What have I been doing for the past season, an entire summer, where I was silent?  And why didn't I blog?  Well, in case the lyrics weren't a give away, I was in Boston. Back in January I received an award at KCACTF (Region 1) for those who don't know, KCACTF is a  national College Theatre Festival, and the particular award I received was a scholarship that allowed me to train with Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, a renown company who I deeply admire.  To train, perform, and work with them for the summer was something I hoped for but didn't anticipate being able to actually do - and the second I realized I would be able to, I was elated.  The only downside was I knew I couldn't share too much of my experience here.

You see, blogs are public access things by their nature - and I have had to be very careful with what information I post publicly because of my "relationship," with my father, a topic I have hinted at on this blog before.  Simply put he was and is abusive, and it is always in my best interest (emotionally, mentally, and physically) for him not to know where I am located.  There was no way to talk about my apprenticeship, which was six or seven days a week, all day and all night, and even had me traveling around Boston, without talking about my exact location - our shows on the Common draw ten thousand people a night, so we're hardly small or unknown.  Which is exactly how he found me anyway.  And once he did, the court battle began, as I attempt to win legal protection from his harassment and stalking, something I knew I couldn't do if I made all of my information public.  I now have enough legal protection to feel comfortable sharing some of my information again. . . and to be honest, I missed this space.  I love to write and I love my blog and I am certainly resentful I had to be pulled away from it.  So expect me back!

Now about this summer - it was amazing.  There was some rough stuff for sure, but it was the most wonderful summer of my entire life. I trained intensively in my craft, performed for tens of thousands of people on the Boston Common, worked with actors from plays like London and Hollywood (we're talkin' an actor on NCIS LA here people!), got to tour Boston performing with the other Apprentices everywhere from a YMCA to George's Island, went to a ton of Sox games, couch surfed like a professional, saw Boston's first Pride Parade, participated in a major arts festival, had a crash course in all things outdoor theatre, grew immeasurably as an artist, learned to really stand on my own two feet, made friendships faster and more deeply than I imagined possible, worked with two dozen inspiring peers, and managed through the grace of God to parlay all of that in to job opportunities as an artist.  

More on those topics to follow! I hope you're all ready to read.