A long way from home...
Downtown Los Angeles looms over Delores Mission, and Homeboy Industries looms over the entire neighborhood. It's a beacon, that's for sure. It's a pretty incredible place. Norma met me at the door. Father G was out. Fabian was there, whose mix up at Canadian Customs and Immigration last March made for an easy hello and laugh. He's an addiction counselor now. Brian showed me around in the wake of G's absence, and what should have taken almost no time, took up a giant slice of the middle of the day.
Father Greg never did return, but I saw Toby who had been vibrant and alive with hope last winter, but who barely recognized Brian, his lifelong friend, and was timid and quiet around me. The LAPD beat him so bad that he spent a chunk of the summer at the USC Medical Center with brain damage. He's still working at Homeboy but in spirit and via direct deposit only. He's broken. This is an uplifting place but struggles with the burden of keeping the horrors at bay. Beverly Hills is a few miles to the North. Orange County is just a few more to the South. The Pacific Ocean is only a scant couple of miles to the West, and East is just more barrio and desert. This part of America doesn't resemble any other part. So much poverty surrounded by so much affluence, and almost no way out.
I stumbled through my time there. Fumbled through conversations with grief counselors, perhaps the busiest people here, and limped through whatever contact I had with addictions counselors and the case workers that spend their days knee deep in equal parts awful and amazing. On the surface there isn't much in common with my life and work at home, but dig a little deeper, wrestle a little perspective from the friendships I've made, and the heartfelt conversations will tell you something different. There's a lot that's the same. Grief is grief. Addiction is addiction. Poverty is poverty, and love and compassion, or the lack of of it, is the same anywhere you go.
I don't even know what to write except that whatever strength I felt yesterday as I drove past palm trees and ocean on my way down to one of my favorite places on the planet, San Clemente, slipped through my fingers today. I probably won't see my friend Louis on this trip. His life is markedly different than he could articulate when our friendship began, or that I could comprehend. Seeing Toby today made me desperate to see my wife and daughter and my time with Fabian and Brian, here in their own backyard, reminded me that I can have more in common with these men, oddly, than those that I grew up with. It's also put that God argument to rest...God doesn't live here in this neighborhood. People do, bent and broken people, but hopeful, ridiculously hopeful people do.
It seems strange that I'm even here, that I have a hug, a handshake, and a heartfelt home here. I don't understand how that works. I suppose it's because I opened myself up to it, but I can't help but wonder how I'll tell my daughter about these relationships and this odd connection. Daddy gets text messages from gang members...No, Daddy gets text messages from friends. That's it, period.