In Search Of Family
I went to see Art at the Mansion today, I got there right after his new reclining chair arrived, it was the perfect size and strength for him. It did slip a bit on the wood floor when he got up, so the Mansion staff came in to move the carpet under it. I think it will make him more comfortable, I think he will like it. His back and legs are stiff and painful.
Art and I have been talking about many things. He spent much of this week making sure the elevator was repaired, he was concerned that some people in wheelchairs might have trouble climbing the stairs. The elevator was repaired. "I think you know about me, good and bad," he said, "I could not bear the thought of people in wheelchairs fighting to get up the stairs. They fixed it, I can let it go now."
Art is proud and a hurt man. As we talk, I learn more about him, the abuse he suffered and the abuse he caused. He makes no claim to be a perfect man, and takes responsibility for the damage he has done to people close to him. When he talks about it, he closes his eyes and can barely speak. in his faith, he has found structure and some support and a path to redemption. There is a lot of anger in him and a lot of pain, and a lot of faith, sometimes a volatile mix.
We talk easily and openly with one another. I asked him about his nine children, none of whom are in touch with him. He said the loss of his family, "it nearly killed me." He said he found family again in Christianity, that has been his family.
When I asked him if he missed his biological family, he said yes, "terribly," but I think his pride bubbled right up, and he said they would have to come to him, he didn't think they would let him come to them. He told me some of the family history, and I had a better sense of why he is so alone. It's not something I can share.
I asked him the other day if he would like me to contact one of his children, and he said yes, he named one I will call John, that is not his real name. When I visited him today, I thought he had forgotten the conversation, but his address book was sitting right next to his bed and he quickly picked it up and opened it and gave me John's telephone number. I had not seen it before, it was out waiting for me.
Art does not know where John lives and could not remember when they last spoke.
He said if I called his son, "you will probably hear a mouthful about me." I think he was worried I would be shocked or disappointed by what I heard. I think his pride was hovering over him like a cloud.
I told him I was not a devout follower of the Bible or any religious book, I was not there to judge him – I couldn't resist. I said I left that to the righteous.
He smiled at me, he got what I was saying.
Art said John was in his 20's and did some work in Wyoming, but he did not know where. I said I would do my best and he shook hands with me as I left and thanked me. Tonight, I called John, Art's number was good and he answered right away.
I told him who I was, that I was a volunteer who was working with Art and trying to make him more comfortable at this point in his life. I said I knew he was a complicated man but I asked if he might consider calling Art over the weekend and talking to him. I thought he was very much alone.
John seemed surprised by the call, but listened carefully and courteously to me. I said if he was open to it, I could probably help him with expenses if he wanted to come East and see his father. A good first step would be to call, talk to his father, and then think it over.
I gave him my numbers and told him to call me, I gave him the number Art gave me for his cellphone, John said he had it. I didn't want to push it any further, and I asked if it was okay if I called him Sunday or Monday, I hoped he felt free to call me at any point.
He said that was fine, he said he would call his father. He did not sound angry or hesitant. He did sound a little surprised.
That was a good place to leave it, so I said goodbye and got off the phone. I hope he does call Art if he can and if it is healthy for him. I completely understand if he can't or doesn't. I don't know what happened between them, I imagine I will find out at some point.
I think for all of his preaching and declaring, Art is a very vulnerable human being right now. He is in a strange community, far from home, he has lost his family, I believe it would be an enormous gift to him to make contact with one or more of his children.
So as always, I look for the boundary. This is as far as I go for now, John will either call or he won't, Art will either connect with him or note. It is now up to them, not me.
If I am asked to help and can, I will. Otherwise, time to back off and move along. My friend Sandy and I will meet with Art next week, he said he would very much like that.
We may have a lot to talk about.
Art is a fundamentalist Christian, he believes some of us will to go heaven and some of us will go to Hell. He loves to hear from people of faith, he calls it his "ministry," and he has been getting letters and reads them carefully. If you wish to write Art, you can send your messages to At, The Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.