Just finished an uplifting weekend at a time when I was beginning to wonder whether I was still liftable.
It started with, of all things, a wake on Saturday morning. Yes, there is inherent sadness in all such events. But always there is recognition of what really matters, and most always, when someone leaves, we learn things we never before knew about him.
This wake was for Judge John “Jack” Keleher. Judge Keleher is the father of one of Beth’s best long-time friends, Colleen. The two of them go way back, to when they were waitresses at Marshall Field Walnut room in Oak Brook. At this point, I go pretty far back with Colleen—and her husband Dennis—too.
Judge Keleher, to me and Beth, was first and foremost Colleen’s dad, and the man who married us in the Keleher family’s back yard in 1984. For those narrow reasons alone, he is an unforgettable character in our lives.
What we learned since is that we are just two of a small army of people who will not forget him. Just read this obituary. He worked for the common good, for civil rights, and he introduced Martin Luther King at an event for crying out loud! Who knew?
The judge’s admirers showed up in force on Saturday – the chapel was standing room only. Here’s to Judge Keleher.
From there we had a short window for errands, which in this case, included upgrading Beth’s cell phone. We stopped at the phone store, and were helped by an African-American man who was more than courteous, he was especially helpful with regard to Beth’s blindness. I don’t know how to explain what that means—it’s a combination of acknowledging and addressing it practically, without obsessing on it.
I’ll confess here as an aside that since all the police shooting stuff has been in the news, I’ve had this impulse to ask random black people what they think of it. The reporter in me wants to talk to the man in the street, and not rely on CNN, Fox, or other outlets.
I stopped myself Saturday, as I had before, because, for one, Beth gets questions sometimes that imply blindness is the most interesting thing about her, and for another, suggest that she speaks for all blind people. (And besides, the guy was working.)
Anyway, we got home in time to receive Beth’s 6-month old great niece—we had volunteered to watch her overnight while her parents attended dad’s office party. (Well, office party is maybe an understatement, poppa Brian works for Lagunitas Brewery.)
Beth likes all kids, but especially the little ones that walk and talk a lot and ask lots of questions—the ones that drive me up the wall. I like babies—easy to manage—and then I like them again when they reach, oh, 25. So I was in my element with Toots (Beth’s new nickname for her.) We sat together, we played with Whitney together, she played with my phone. I watched her work intently on making new sounds, manipulating little toys I put in her hand. I could almost see new neurons firing. Never gets old.
Of course, Toots also kept either of us from getting a full night’s sleep. And I was reminded of that very particular brand of fatigue that only comes with a particular stage of parenthood, and that it’s great to be an uncle and not a father at my age.
After a workout at the gym, I put on a pot of stew and we headed down to our local, Hackney’s, while it finished cooking. Beth and I are partial to the two last seats farthest away from the door (at least during the winter season).
Sure enough, they were open, but one was wedged in a little tightly next to another patron, a 20-something (I thought) black guy who looked like was a college student.
I asked if the seat was taken, he said, enthusiastically, “No, sit down,” and he moved his cell phone and other bits of belongings, apologizing as he did.
Somewhere along the line between our eavesdropping on him and his friend and his eavesdropping on Beth and me, our conversations crossed. And he turned and said to me, “This being the holidays and all, would you mind if we bought you your backup?”
I said, ever so cleverly, “Backup?” He said, “Yeah, your second drink.”
His buddy nodded his approval.
We said yes, of course (the stew still had time). And we broke into conversation and I learned that he is not 22, he is 45 (his buddy vouched for that, giggling like someone who’d won a bar bet or two on that issue).
He’d gone to DePaul University and then gone to work there and had worked at DePaul for 25 years. His name was Mike, he grew up in Pilsen, he lived out toward O’Hare but he and his buddy Mark like this neighborhood and come down from time to time.
I told him he’d made my week. I meant it. He said, yeah, with everything going, you know, we just need to love each other, don’t you think? Ordinarily, that kind of talk makes me crazy. Not this time.
“Yeah,” I said, “You’re right.”
“Besides, I got a good vibe from you two.”
Beth chimed in at some point as she often needs to when we meet new people—she and I are so into our routines that we’re not even aware of when they might look odd—“I don’t know if you know, but I’m blind.”
Mike said he’d thought so, he’d once dated a visually impaired person for several years.
I told him that the recent events had me down, and I asked what he thought. He quickly launched into a prolog that went, “I respect the police, I respect how hard their job is, I really really…”.
But, after he made all that clear, he added that he’d been terrified of the police his entire life, and remained so. It was impossible to imagine anyone taking this cherubic, manically upbeat guy as a threat.
Mark reminded him that they had to get going, we shook hands, Beth hugged, and they were off.
On our drive out to the Judge’s wake in our Zipcar, we had listened to Saturday Morning Flashback. A local station—WXRT—spends all morning recounting music and movies and pop culture from a bygone year. Saturday’s was 1970. One thing: music was better then. There will be no argument.
For another thing, one of the songs was the Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion.” Lordy, I thought, nothing’s changed.
But between being reminded of the work of Judge Jack, the twinkling promise of Toots, that wonderful guy at the AT&T store, and the holiday gift that was Mike and Mark, I concluded otherwise.
A lot’s changed. But I take Mike at his word about being terrified. Not being terrified of police isn’t a privilege. It’s a right.
We, that includes me, have a fair piece to go. And I believe we’ll get there. But not by accident.