Took Pearl to the vet. As luck would have it, the vet we usually see was there. We don't usually make appointments with specifically him, but he checked out Pearl's 3-week-old cough yesterday.
He's been so good with our dogs. Treats them as if they're his own. Most visits, he spends more time just doting on them than diagnosing them or talking to me. I don't mind this one bit.
Yesterday, he was holding Pearl close as he was listening to her breathing. He was in tighter proximity to me than I guess I've been before, since Pearl was not enjoying being at the vet and was clinging to me for dear life.
It had never hit me how much he looks like a young Carl Pruitt, my grandfather, who was also an amazing vet.
I don't clearly remember my grandfather ever telling me this, but for some reason when I think of him I always think of him saying, "Don't forget who you are. Don't forget where you come from."
My grandfather died four years ago, yet he continues to find ways to haunt me, even to this day. Usually it's when I'm running, which frequently doubles for me as a time of prayer. I'm tired, I'm alone, I'm without headphones. That's usually when he haunts me. Yesterday, he haunted me in the form of another person. Another person who cares more about the relationship with the patient than the diagnosis, the prescription, or the money being charged. He just knew who needed a good scratch behind the ears.
I was downstairs at work yesterday when I walked by the front door. A young man was in the narrow window of the front door, glancing to his right to draw the attention of the front desk attendant, his mouth slightly agape in anticipation. For a second, I thought it was Jeffrey.
Jeffrey was from Harlem. I taught Jeffrey in a little charter school up there during the 2007-2008 school year. He was a smart kid, full of vibrance and wit. He considered himself a ladies' man, and always especially endeared himself to his female teachers. So, my authority as a teacher was a tough sell on Jeffrey. But I never tried to be someone I wasn't. I think he respected that. Jeffrey also came from a family of gangsters. Sometimes, you could almost see the transparency of his attempts to be hardcore; he was too young to make it completely sellable. He was still a kid. He wanted to be his own man. His family chose otherwise for him. There were rumors that Jeff contributed to the gang rape initiation of one of his female classmates. They were probably true. When I told a counselor after finding out from a security employee Jeff trusted, the employee bitched me out. This was not for me to meddle in, I was told. Such was the climate.
Jeff was shot and killed a couple years ago. We had already moved back to St. Louis by then. I found out on Facebook. To this day, a lot of his classmates--my former students--still have a picture with Jeff as the cover photo on their Facebook profiles. Usually it's accompanied with some caption about being a true gangster. And so, the violence continues. The theft of childhoods in Harlem goes deeper.
So, the kid at the window at work yesterday. In about two seconds, I realized that it wasn't Jeff. But I stopped long enough to hope that it was, a moment long enough for me to exit my rational mind and enter my hopeful spirit. Jeff's death has lived into something bigger than he could have imagined, a thousand miles away, years later.
III. Holy Ghost
Walking through the lobby later, I had the urge to high-five an older colleague as he was standing there. He obliged, yet held my hand so that I couldn't continue past.
"What's that on your neck?," he asked.
As a cancer survivor who first found out what was wrong via a lump in his neck, you can imagine my rise in blood pressure.
"What are you talking about?"
"That. That thing hanging around your neck. What is that?"
In Mozambique last year, I was with a group from my church on our last evening with our host. He prayed with us. Then, he offered each man in the group a necklace, hand-carved and purchased on the streets of Beira. Each woman was given earrings. I've worn my necklace every day since he gave it to me. That was almost ten months ago.
The necklace has practically become part of my body. I forget it's there. It was a reminder that I broadcast a physical message that I am connected to someone I care about literally halfway around the world. A Mozambican man many years younger than me, with more responsibilities than I can imagine. One who juggles all of those with grace, purpose, and laughter. I owe him a great debt for skipping over several walls of culture very quickly in order to call me "brother."
That connection, even when the necklace falls apart, will never die. It's always with me. Everywhere.
Just like Jeff. Just like grandaddy.