By Fr. Nick Kotsis - Since I came to Ann Arbor as a student in 1992, I have always enjoyed the fall in this beautiful town. The fall here has, at least in semblance to me, been replete with warm, sunny days and cool, crisp evenings. In the first few weeks of September, the cicadas still cry out in the night; perhaps in lamentation of summer’s pass, but more likely in calls to attention at the great transformation their lofty abodes will soon undergo. And when their echoes fade, the blended colors of the maples, oaks, and all the other trees transform the vista into something Jackson Pollock could not imitate.
It was on a beautiful evening like this in the fall of 1995 when I and a couple of my friends/roommates were sitting on the porch of our rented house. We were all on course to graduate the following spring and we certainly were well aware to take in a deep breath of the “good life” before reality sets in.
We lived on S. Forest. We had all lived in that same house the year before. That particular fall, after a year of complaining, the rental company decided to fix our basement walls. An entire corner seemed ready to collapse at any minute: the masonry was crumbling to the ground, water was seeping in, and our gas and electrical intakes were all on those walls. One could see the outside from the basement (or vice versa, of course) by looking along the line that came from the electric meter!
In early September, a construction crew came and began work. They tore down two entire walls and held the house up on wooden stilts. There was a huge mound of earth that surrounded the corner that was formerly walled. The yard was a mess. Worst of all, anyone could just slide down the mounds of earth into the basement and come right up the basement the stairs. I was the only non-engineer in the house, so by the time the others set forth to draw up plans for our safety, I had already bought a 2x4 and wedged the basement door shut against the opposing wall. Ahem…
Anyway, this was the situation of our rental house on that beautiful fall night.
My two friends (one now my koumbaro) and I were sitting on the porch just enjoying the evening and giving thanks to the inventor that figured out what to do with the process of fermentation.
From the south end of the street, two fellows came towards us from the sidewalk. They were pushing a couple of grocery carts of large plastic bags filled with returnable cans. We could hear them coming for a while; partly because of the rattling of the carts, partly because of the cans that would fall on the sidewalk constantly, and partly because of the fines lines of Tennyson or Byron that were uttered once a can was again retrieved.
We did not know if they were homeless. There were certain indications that they were not. For one, they both had sets of keys hanging from their pants. More importantly, one was complaining about his neighbor’s dog in the room above him between bouts of picking up cans.
Nevertheless, they stopped a few yards from our porch. They took a few moments and kept looking above our heads. It was clear they were reading the sign of our rental company, Oakland Management. They whispered a few things to each other, and after about a minute or two they approached us.
“Hi guys. Uh, we’re here from Oakland Management,” said the one as he took off his baseball cap and scratched his head.
“Really? Why? I don’t remember them saying you guys were coming.” One of my friend’s was jumping head-first into this conversation.
“Uh, yeah, the guys we talked to at, uh, Oakland Management said everything was here for us to start working. He said you guys were cool and would give us some beer then we’ll start.”
“Working on what?” said my other friend.
“Working on the basement! It’s just a big hole if you hadn’t noticed!” replied the same man with triumphant smile on his face. I had to give him the point for that overlook on my friend’s part. That fellow did all the talking except for one line.
“Man, it’s 8:30 at night and dark. How can you guys work now,” said I.
“Well, like I said, the guys at, uh, uh, Oakland Management said you guys were cool guys, you had all the tools, you’d give us a few beers and we’ll begin working.” He finally stopped scratching his head. Boy was I glad – I started scratching my own head because of him…
Our friend replied, “Wait a minute. You guys drink before working and using equipment?”
“No, man, it’s not like that. They guys at Oakland Management said you were cool and would give us a few beers before we started working,” the same man reiterated, clearly making the sentence more and more true each time he said it.
“Hold on. You guys keep saying, ‘the guys at Oakland Management.’ We’ve never seen a guy in their office. It’s all run my women,” said one of us, with a hint of “gotcha” in the flourish.
Then the silent man said, while looking at the ground, his only line, in not much more than a trailing whimper, “Well then, they lady we talked to sure sounded like dude.”
We all lost it at that point. Even the silent one was laughed heartily. As the laughter, subsided, we told the guys, “come on, sit down with us and have a beer.” The talkative one replied, “that’s all we really wanted.” Well, ‘no kidding!’ is what I’m sure we all thought.
We spent the next thirty or forty minutes talking with the guys and enjoying each other’s company. Then they thanked us quite politely and began down the road towards S. University with their carts of plastic bags filled with cans; rattling as they went and cursing at every can that continued to fall.
The thing that I always remember is that they thanked us, and they did so kindly. It’s not as if we deserved the thanks; we didn’t help their lot in life. One could say we shouldn’t have played along with their little game; or that we should have done something more to help them. I don’t know.
But the important part of the story is that they were thankful. And they expressed it.
St. Paul tells us, “…in everything, give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1Thess 5:18) Of course, we should all heed these words often and give thanks to Jesus for all the blessing we have received.
Just as well, we should be giving thanks to those around us not simply just for doing things for us or giving us things, but simply for the relationships we have with them.
For the time being, however, I think it would be well for us if we make sure we thank the people working in the hospitals, in the stores, delivering our mail, preparing and delivering our food, etc.
And we must not forget thanking those who are being so patient with us at home during this time!
The Thankful Husband of Sandra