SO THIS HAPPENED.
If you’ve been around here long, like since last week, you know Father Greg Boyle is one of my favorite humans. No doubt I quote him nearly as often as the Bible and my very last post circled around his theory on burn out and expectations.
I have known for a couple years Father G and I have a mutual friend, Nate. Nate has shared stories about G with me and knows of my fondness for him. This past week at the Christian Community Development Association National Conference in Los Angeles, Nate made the mistake of telling me he and his wife had dinner plans with Father G.
I channeled my inner four-year old and begged to tag along. I was teasing, sort of. Nate explained they had already invited a family member and this was really more of an intimate gathering among friends. Nate is possibly the most invitational man on the planet, so I knew his kind no meant it really was a small gathering of friends.
The next afternoon I saw Jenny, Nate’s wife, as I was walking through the halls of the Westin. After chatting a bit she mentioned she was waiting to go to dinner. I teased that I tried to invite myself along but it didn’t work. She smiled and said, “Come!” Her brother decided he wanted to attend a breakout session on immigration, which meant I could go to dinner in his stead.
I’m certain there were angels and dancing right there in the hallway.
We met Father G, who I will henceforth refer to as G – ’cause we’re now on a first name basis, at Homeboy just before 5 o’clock. If you’ve never been to Homeboy Industries, imagine a large, bright, two-story building crawling with homeboys and homegirls of every size, shape, and color. There are kids of homies. There are homies in wheelchairs. There are huge windows and glass walls. We walked in and were greeted by a homie sitting right inside the door, like an angel sitting at the city gates.
He introduced himself as Slam and asked if we were with InnerChange. I’m still not sure how he knew. Nate and Jenny started chatting with him, one thing led to another, and it turns out they know about 50 of the same people. We invite Slam back to the conference with us, and to join us later that night for s’mores at one of our LA coworkers house. Nate and Slam exchange numbers and we commit to seeing each other later.
My friends introduce me to G and his “baby Jesuit” Marcos.
We head out the door to walk to our dinner location. The homies are gathered outside. It’s quitting time, and on a Friday night no less, but they are still hanging out. Each homie greets G with a hug and an, “I love you, Pop.” They share a brief update. Where they’ve been, what they’re up to, when they’ll see him next. There’s an older, sun-faded, dark blue mini-van parked up the street. A couple little boys hop out with their dad. They look to be about six and eight. All three hug G. “Mi hijo!” he says to them. Apparently they had just eaten barbecue and one of the boys accidentally wipes his face on G’s shirt during their embrace. His dad tries to wipe it off with a napkin but it’s no use. G just laughs.
He tells every homie he loves them.
It’s this first 100 or so yards of our walk I begin to realize, he just is exactly who he is. In the book, the interviews, speeches, documentary. That man is the real man. Just exactly who he is.
We walk a few blocks to a Mexican market of sorts. G greets everyone – the hostess, our waiter, other waiters – with a hug and kiss on the cheek. He asks for a table in the back room and we take our seats. He invites me to sit next to him.
My friends tell G about the Light Breaks Forth Book Club, and how I give his book away to as many people as I can. I told him about our plans to start a woodworking business in our neighborhood, to offer job training and employment to our neighbors, to which he replied, “Yeah, I think that’ll work.”
We talk about skid row and Georgetown University’s move towards reparations. He asks Nate and Jenny about their kids, about Guatemala, about life. There were no tweetable quotes or mind-blowing ideologies; just an ordinary dinner among ordinary friends.
We walk back to Homeboy and G stopped about a block away. He says something in Spanish and I recognize only one word – dios. He marveled at the activity on the second floor. It was packed with people. Through the floor to ceiling windows we watch as silhouettes move about above us. “I just love seeing that.” G says. He explains the group is an AA meeting. “Everybody who’s nobody.”
We cross the street, G tells us they inherited the AA group from a church who kicked them out.
Homies stand around outside, smoking, laughing, putting my tattoos to shame. We’re greeted by a homie named Adrian. Adrian is wearing a plain white t-shirt and the broadest shoulders I’ve ever seen on a human. G introduces him as his hero.
I’ve read dozens if not hundreds of G’s stories about homies. Those stories have touched my life in innumerable ways. But that night, standing in the shadows of everybody who’s nobody, I got to hear a homie tell a story about G.
Adrian told us about his first meeting with G, how G asked if he wanted a job. Adrian answered affirmatively. G went on to ask if he would do anything for him and he said yes, of course he would. G said, “I want you to get rid of that tattoo on your face.” Adrian said he agreed, but tells us he was thinking “No way,” along with a few expletives. Adrian’s plan was to play G.
G stands up and invites Adrian to follow him to the hallway. He explains there are about 1,000 people on the wait list to have tattoos removed, but since Adrian is his favorite, G bumped him to the front of the list. Adrian had his first removal session right. then.
Our small group erupts into laughter.
We ask Adrian what he’s up to now and he recounts finishing the Homeboy Industries program, going back to school and working at Volunteers of America. Then he says, “And yesterday I got an acceptance email from Harvard.”
Adrian’s smile spreads broad as his shoulders across his face.
I’m sure I had a look of surprise on my own face; I think we all did. All of us expect G. Adrian pulls his cell phone out of his pocket and shows G the email. G nods and says, “I told you you were my hero.”
And that’s exactly who G is. Just a man loving people into their destiny.