Brian seemed distracted last week when I stopped in for lunch at Turning Point. He is a fairly new resident. I met him a few weeks earlier at Bingo, which our church hosts the first Monday of the month. Then, he struck me as a loner out to get what he could; a bit brash and demanding; perhaps survivor is a better description.
We made polite small talk in the food line, both waiting to get our trays. I asked him to remind me of his name. Then, responding to a comment he made about himself, I said, Brian, all you have to do is be the best Brian you know how to be today.
We sat down across from each other. As I "lit up" and made conversation with those around me, he finally said, "Well, you're in a good mood today." Yeah, I am, I said, but added that I had been in a grumpy mood when I woke up that morning. He asked, "How'd you get out of it?" I replied, well I sat down and had a chat with God and got my head on straight. Then things went much better after that.
Brian and I learned we had something in common: parents suffering from dementia. His Mom has dementia, but not of the Alzheimer's kind like my Dad, he said. He spoke of her in the past tense, so I asked, was she still living? He paused, his expression turning distant. "I don't know..."
Brian was estranged from his family, it seems, but apparently the apple of his Mother's eye.
Brian started telling me about various groups and meetings he had been attending, trying to get his head on straight as well, he said. I asked calmly, is church on that list? No, he said, I'm an atheist. I began to ask a follow-up, but someone else listening in on the conversation blurted out, "Man, I just hurt when I meet people like you ...." This was Daniel (I winced at his words), new and excited enough in his faith that he wanted to make sure everyone else knew about it. Brian remained perfectly calm then finally replied, "I could say the same about you..." It was priceless and I suppressed a grin because it is exactly what I would have said, had I been Brian.
I turned back to Brian. The thing I wanted to ask you, I said, is how do you get around the whole 'higher power' issue in AA if you are an atheist? (He had mentioned attending AA meeting in the course of our conversation.) "Well," he reasoned, "that's why I refer to myself as a peripheral member of AA."
Fair enough, I thought.
I looked Brian in the eye and said, I'm going to make a covenant with you, Brian ... I won't ever try to Billy Graham you, but I'm a very curious person by nature and I'd like to ask you some more questions some time...
He thanked me for my promise and said yes, of course I could ask him anything.
I put that conversation off for another day. We both got up and made our way to the tray return room where the dishes are washed. I told Brian to have a nice today and he returned the goodwill.
Then I left. I was done. Brian gave me access; permission to ask questions later. That's enough for me.