'"Called To Grace"
In a lifetime, we often meet people that stand out from the crowd and achieve to a very high level. They get things done and everyone takes notice or admires them. That is nice to see but, it is seen often enough to be common and does not leave a lasting impression on me. Accomplishment does not stir my spirit.
It is not what people achieve that causes me to pause along my path to seek them out. It is instead, what they have become…(rather than who) what they project by their state of being. The “inner passages” that they have explored. I am fortunate to have known several special people that have taught me my most valued lessons about such things… often with a single sentence, a glance… or just by virtue of their constant state of peace. The beauty of their spirit.
These are people who, through the force of their enlightened state of being, changed me forever. They gently (and sometimes not so gently) led me towards a higher and more compassionate consciousness. They awakened my own spirit into a higher level of watchful awareness. (Often as a result of painful self examination).
As a young man, I had no male role model from which to construct my own “life template”, so I listened and watched for answers to my unspoken inner questions. I was watching for clues, signals and signposts. These came slowly in the fullness of time…agonizingly slowly. I did not understand in those days…that in order to find my way, I must first lose it.
Joe Crystal was the first of my “spirit guide “teachers. I have never met a finer man than he…I met him around 1965 on the East Coast, USA. Joe was a black man of about 70 years or so. (I am a white man). He was a janitor at Sears & Roebucks, where I worked part time after school. I was about 16 then and I unloaded trucks. I would often run into Joe on the freight elevator as I hauled merchandise to the stockrooms and he took his trash barrel from the compactor to the sales floors or restrooms over and over again. Sometimes Joe would hum old songs that I did not know. He never sang the words. I still remember some of the melodies.
My father hated black people. That made me pretty sure that black people were just fine. My father also hated Jews, Polish people and on and on…Joe, the janitor, was the first black person I spent any real time talking with. Our conversations were never longer than it took to ride the elevator from the basement to the second floor of Sears. Joe was a nice man and always cheerful. Extremely strong too as I recall and he had huge hands. Worn and cracked hands. The old fellow had a neon smile with the best teeth one could ever hope for. He was about 5 foot 7 inches tall. Always in his green janitor work clothes. Shirt buttoned all the way to the top. Long sleeves, no matter the weather. He had a fine head of snow white hair.
Yes, he sure was nice. So much so, that I apparently would look for flaws in that niceness…by teasing him or trying to get him to talk about somebody in the store who might be mean, rude or somehow odd to my immature mind. Well, I never could get Joe to speak a negative thought or word about anyone. Not a soul. I thought it might be because he was black and this was the sixties…his persona could be a defense mechanism in a world of racists. This was not the Deep South but, I have learned that many of us have a way of professing tolerance and acceptance that is really just a “thin veneer” of self-serving civility. Underneath that veneer is the same “beast” that lived, unchained and well fed… in my own father.
It was probably a year or so after I met Joe, that a day came when the elevator stuck between floors with us, a few heavy skids of paint and some stinky trash from the coffee shop jammed in there. Joe and I were both kind of wedged up against the back wall of the freight elevator. It looked kind of like a cage. I guess it seemed like a good time for me to get to the bottom of this mystery that was Joe Crystal…so I asked Joe some questions.
I started with, ” Joe, how come you are always so nice and never have a bad thing to say even about jerks like Fred Stevenson, the paint manager?” (Stevenson, among others, would not speak to Joe…ever… but, Joe never failed to grin and tip his “imaginary hat” as they passed one another…saying, ” Good day Mr. Fred Stevenson!” ) I know it just galled Stevenson to no end but, I realize Joe was teaching the guy something..in his own special way. Joe grabbed my arm with his iron grip and gently admonished me, ” Now Mr. G…you know we have to treat all people the same…Mr. Stevenson deserves just what I give to you or anyone else…No, no, no. (Joe shook his head) I am sure Mr. Stevenson has many burdens that no man can fathom. I am sure he suffers in some ways that we cannot know… he is a good man.”
I was not expecting that answer. I did not even know what the word “fathom” meant at that point in life.” I then asked Joe, ” Are you really like this all the time? Are your really that nice?” Surprisingly, Joe paused a moment and then he said, ” I think I am Mr G…I have been a long time this way and I worked so hard to get here!” Joe looked just a little sad at that point…(Confusing the heck out of my young brain) I patted him on the shoulder and asked him, ‘Why? Why are you the way you are ?” Joe looked right past me, a distant look in his aged, dimming eyes and said, ” After the war, I had lost my way son…” his voice trailed off. ” Lost it all and everything, surely did. ” he said softly.
It was quiet for a moment. There was only the sound of the men above working to free us…”Joe” I said, ” I don’t really get it… what do you mean?” At that point, the elevator started to lurch and move downward. It kind of made the next moment urgent for us. Joe took my hand in his and squeezed it hard. I saw that he had a tear streaming down his face. Joe never looked up and said. ” Some men are called to Grace ….some are called to Grace my friend”.
We were out of time at that point for in the next instant, the elevator cage door rattled up in it’s greasy track and we had to get back to our tasks. Joe patted me on the shoulder and said no more. He didn’t need to. I vaguely began to understand that Joe had ”become something” more than himself. I did not understand how he did that or what exactly he had become. I was a spiritual infant at best and Joe was…a “Mystic”. His was a torturous inner path to peace. I sensed that it must take courage.
Today, I have come to understand how important Joe was in my life and how he changed this small fragile world for the better. How he made a big difference in each life that encountered his own…he taught me the importance of being good to those who are not good to us. It easy to be nice to those who treat us well. Joe showed the same face to all others he encountered regardless of their intent…and he reserved some compassion for them.
It could not have been easy for him to do so.
Joe used the term “Grace”. It is as good a word as any for the “compassionate loving awareness” that calls to the human Spirit across the universe and the great depths of time itself.
Thank you, Joe.
- Solo Guitar