Saturday, October 2, 2021

Ravenswood Notes: Cool Monks

Two Monks in Contemplation in a Forest, by Carl Baron von Vittinghoff (Met)

     I'm tempted to put a trigger alert atop Caren Jeskey's report today. Any of us who have ever had an awkward encounter in a restaurant, or made a remark that we thought would be knowingly chuckled at and instead got us dragged to the curb and set out with the trash, socially, will relate, if not shudder. Which has to be just about everyone. But these difficult social knots can be undone, and understanding can be reached, if one persists, as you will see.


     My father met me for breakfast one morning this week, before I started my workday. I picked the place, Pastores. It was a treat to see the back of his head as he sat at a table waiting for me, as I walked west on Leland towards Lincoln. (This could not have happened over the last 7 years when I lived in Texas).
     We settled in for frittatas, kale and avocado smoothies, and Intelligentsia java. The clamor of garbage trucks and the occasional Brown Line train reminded us where we were. Pastores offers tasty fare, exceedingly friendly staff, and vibrant murals if you happen to venture indoors to use the restroom.
     As we sipped our coffee and waited for the food, our peace was disturbed by an aggressive voice bellow
ing loudly at the patio patrons. My head instinctively whipped around to see an older model convertible sedan with its oversized passenger window wide open. A tattooed, buzz-cut person’s upper body practically hung out of the window. This person had somehow decided that yelling “have a beautiful day” at us was a good idea.
     It was jarring.
     I stood up to water a tree with the water I wasn’t going to drink (a regular practice of mine) and commented 
aloud to my patio neighbors “I wish I was that high at 9:30 in the morning.” I was met with horrified stares by two young, hip people and one solo man who sat at one of the tables nearby. I realized they were thinking “oh, that Karen.” They would not deign to make eye contact, nor crack a smile in my direction, or acknowledge me in any way, shape or form. I was the annoying, white, middle aged lady who clearly doesn’t deserve their attention. Then I realized that they were sharing knowing smiles and laughs with another “cool person” sitting at the table next to them, and they all joined ranks to school me. “Maybe she's just happy? Maybe she just wanted to share some joy?” I simply sat back down.

     Alas, the solo guy with the ironic tee shirt and slouchy jeans was not letting it go. We were sitting back to back, his table, just behind ours, and he let me know just how terrible I was. “We don’t know if she was on drugs.” I resisted saying “how do you know they’re a she?” He continued. “I don’t like to make assumptions about people.” I half-turned and said “you’re right. I’m sorry. I should not have said that.” He kept going. I couldn’t really hear what he was saying as he rambled on in my direction, but the tone was obvious. I was a dumb person and he was not.
     I finally turned towards him and said “I was startled. I said I was sorry. You’re right, it’s best not to falsely accuse others.” That did not stop him and he continued on a diatribe of how one should give benefit of the doubt to others.
     I saw it differently. I felt that the person in the car wanted to disrupt our patio sit, and they did seem high. Or angry. Or mentally unwell. Or some variation. I said (not sure why I thought I’d end up having a civil discourse with this person) “I am a mental health professional and I do care about others, but I felt uncomfortable.” His response? “My wife is a psychologist.” I wish I’d said “so do you mansplain to her too?” 
     I finally got the sense to shut it down by saying “I am getting back to my meal now,” and I did.
    My father and I didn’t talk about what had happened. I was trying to refocus on having a good meal with Pops. It was tough though, since I felt that I had said something callous, was called on it, and then was not allowed to receive forgiveness, even when I apologized.
     The reason I feel I was being callous is I try to live by the motto “support, don’t punish.” I don’t feel that drug users are scum. They are people who are suffering. I don’t feel that angry, possibly mentally ill people should be name-called either. That’s not who I am.
     The hip kids and the solo man were right in some ways. It’s not OK to accuse someone of using drugs, without evidence. It’s also not OK to try to draw others into my worldview, especially these days. It may be important to mention that they were all brown people. I was the glaring white Karen.
     The solo man then loudly told the waitress that he wanted to move inside, which I took as a further affront.
Before we left, I decided to try to make peace with Mr. Solo. On my way out of the restroom I stopped at his table, and repair we did. I generally succeed in reconciling with others by using authenticity with a dose of humility. He apologized, and so did I. His name is Pete. I told him that I can imagine things must be stressful for his wife, since those of us in the field of mental health counseling have a lot on our plates this year. He thanked me. I told him “it’s nice meeting you.” He was disarmed, smiled, said “you too." He also explained that he had moved inside to join a Zoom meeting, not because he was trying to get away from me. And we parted ways.
      Getting along with others these days seems to be a battle. As I wrote this piece from a table next to a wide open window at Bar Roma on Clark, I vowed not to talk to the two men next to me because 1) I was focused and 2) I’m a little gun shy. But they were wrapping things up, and I got a very good vibe from them, so I took a chance. First we talked food. It’s quite delicious here.
     Although he was in fashionable street clothes,
 I guessed that one of them was a monk. He was. I guessed the other was from a “cool religion” since he reminded me of plenty of folks I’ve come across in Chicago over the years. Kind, warm, grounded, religious, and not preachy. I was right. He’d been a hospital chaplain and is now a hospital administrator. Turns out we have some friends in common.
      He’s from MedellĂ­n Columbia, and was a Benedictine Monk from 2006-2017 in Aurora, Illinois. He moved to Chicago in 2016 and has been working for the Archdiocese ever since.
     I asked him about the topic of his sermon last Sunday. I was raised Catholic and (though I am not religious now) I often appreciated the wisdom of the pastors. He shared that in his sermon he appealed to his parish to get vaccinated. He used a Biblical story about a person who was creating miracles who was not religious, and was outside of the church. His message? Dr. Fauci and other science-based experts are offering the miracle of the vaccine, so trust it. Get it.
     I’m so glad I took the leap and decided to connect with my neighbors. They may not all like me, we may not all get along, but sometimes a gem in the form of a former Benedictine monk turned very cool Chicagoan appears. For that, I am grateful.



  1. The reactions of people around you to comments are based on their experience. In the past assisting homeless people it was not unusual to see people under the influence of illegal drugs. It's depressing to see someone on the ground laughing at nothing particularly funny and can be smelled (awful) if you approach within 10 feet, see someone with open sores associated with poor hygiene because they can't see beyond the next fix, hobbling about with missing toes and fingers because of frostbite, or stepping out in front of moving vehicles in an attempt to commit suicide. If I was at a nearby table and heard your joke, the idea that the only side effect of drug use would be to shout at strangers “have a beautiful day,” I'd be laughing in relief.
    Then there is the various forms of mental illness, like paranoia, schizophrenia, or depression. It can be a real challenge for a doctor to select a drug and adjust dosage to suppress symptoms and minimize loss of cognitive ability, so a person can lead a functional life. I'm familiar with the high risk of bad outcome if someone stops taking their prescribed medication. Thus if I overhear someone say "are you off your meds?" to a stranger, they will get a scowl and glare reaction from me.

  2. Although never meaning harm, my unfiltered self occasionally would stick my foot in my mouth. I decided to filter myself and found I was getting anxious and depressed.
    I realized that it was better to be myself and express myself without each time checking to make sure it wouldn't be interpreted the wrong way.
    Much better.
    Times are stressful. People thresholds are lower. Unintended things happen.

  3. Thanks for sharing. Clients often struggle as they try to find the right meds. Check out my post about one of my experiences with an anti-depressant if you’d like:

    Also, sounds like you and I have both been involved in street outreach. Kudos to you!

  4. I often run into young people these days who act as though they are the first in history to discover righteousness - they revel in letting us know that they are enlightened - and we are not. My theory is that it is a function of being the first generation in human history whose majority life experience is virtual in nature. Their personal narrative is an accumulation of content rather than organic, human, one to one experience and interactions.

    Humor is a coping mechanism, a way to lessen the existential burden of life. Judging every attempt at humor from the smug point of view of an internet chat forum exchange with a stranger is a terrible development in the human journey.

    Keep fumbling and stumbling with humor and embracing the risk of being a human - no risk, no reward.

    1. I'll put it more succinctly...there seem to be a lot more a-holes flapping their jaws in Chicago these days. And not all of them are the ones yelling out of beater convertibles. Many of them are out on the patios and decks that proliferate now, and they have no reservations (sorry) about sticking those flapping jaws in other diners' faces.

      Seems to be a disease of the young, along with rampant ageism and even outright hatred for Boomers and Gen X folks. You're white and you just turned 52, so they gave you a snootful. It will only get worse as you get older, because there will be even more of them coming up behind you. Better get ready.Stock up on TP, because there will be plenty of flying crap ahead. It's not just a Chicago thing, though. Sadly, it's now the way of the world.


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