father fitzgerald and herb's golden ticket

last week i volunteered at the DNC.
no, that doesn't mean i am a flaming democrat.
and it doesn't mean i am staunch republican.
what it means is,
i am a person who
sees a strong leader in senator obama,
who is curious about what will happen
if our country tries something new,
who is willing to pay a little more,
so others can have a little more,
a person who is proud of her city,
and wanted to show it off
and provide a warm welcome to our 50,000 visitors.

getting tickets to obama's speech
on thursday night appeared to be
very challenging.
there were all sorts of misconceptions
(and maybe intentional false rumors)
flying around the city regarding tickets.
there was talk of each ticket
being registered to each individual.

bar codes that would be scanned.
doors to the stadium locked by 2pm,
leaving the eager obama-nites
waiting a good 5 hours for his appearance.

it turns out that the night of the event,

tickets were flying around like a pack of pigeons on speed
and the doors didn't close until obama took the stage.

all along, i had a feeling that my volunteer post
doing hospitality at a local hotel
was probably
not very necessary
during the 5-9pm shift i was assigned on thursday night.
but at the absence of the golden ticket, i went.

around 5:30, a very disheveled older man returned to the hotel.
with a college sweatshirt carelessly slung over
his black suit clad shoulders,
he stumbled towards the lobby's microwave
and began (perhaps for the first time?)
to decipher to directions on the box of
a sara lee
frozen apple tart.

"can i just put this in there like this?",
he asked jodi and i,
holding the unopened box up for our examination.

not pleased with our answer,
he asked "well, then, can i eat it like it is?"

now, even more deflated that it was frozen
and wouldn't taste very good,

he slouched on a bar stool
while he waited for what was, i would guess,
one of his first microwave meals,
to finish cooking.

it turns out, Father Fitzgerald was at the convention
to let Catholics know that it is okay to be pro-life
and still stand with the democratic party.
his aunt had been a delegate when he was 8 years old,
and he made a promise to himself that day,
as she told her stories,
that he would sometime attend a democratic convention.
that was 1940.

so here he stood, in 2008,
not among the throngs of onlookers
sharing a piece of important american history in the making,
but in a hotel lobby with two 30-somethings
and a frozen apple pie.

Father Fitzgerald has a bad knee.
much too bad to stand in the long lines
required to get into invesco field.
at a friend's ill advice, he decided to take a private driver
instead of the shuttle
that could have taken him directly to guest services,

where he could have gotten a nice wheelchair.

he made the wrong choice, he said.

that kind of stuff just happens sometimes, he said.

he looked like,
for a moment,
that the life had been drained from him.
quickly forgiving myself for being just one step
above someone who steals wallets from
the bodies of murder victims on the streets,
instead of calling the police,
i quietly walked over to Father Fitzgerald

"it's for my husband", i explained,
"it would just make his year!"

"how would he get there?" the tired priest asked.
"cars can't get anywhere near the stadium and the lines are very long."

"his bike."

seemingly appeased with my answer,
without words,
he took his ticket,

from the plastic pocket on his lanyard
and slid it across the table.

i was at once ecstatic and heart broken.

i began to back peddle.
after clarifying that there was
NO way to get the priest

to the stadium
(can we borrow a wheelchair from the hotel?
do we know anyone with a wheelchair?
do we have access to a flight for life helicopter?)
i scampered outside, so as not to gloat, to call herb.

"sweetie, if you are willing to be a representative
of the American Catholics tonight,
and you can be here in 10 minutes
to get your ticket,
you are going to the speech!"

i LOVE the Catholics.

i'm on my way."

by the time i went back inside,
Father was gone.

my heart ached.

herb was thrilled.

and i found myself ecstatic.
more ecstatic than if i had ditched jodi
and taken the ticket for myself
(a thought that crossed my mind,
and hers too, i am sure.)

the look on his face,
the way he grabbed me and held me,
the way he thanked me.
it was the best feeling i have had
time -
to make someone i love so much,
so incredibly excited and happy!

this is, i thought, what true love is.
it is when you feel happier,
more content,
to give something
to the person you love
than you would have been


i walked him to his scooter
and returned to the lobby.
my chest hurt.
for all of my grown life,
i have experienced this odd,
extremely painful feeling
when i see people disappointed.
when i see people embarrassed.
when i see people who
should be embarrassed

but don't realize it.

many years ago,
i watched a group of young asian tourists
walking around the pedestrian mall in Boulder,
asking strangers if they could interview them.
they were practicing their english
by asking silly questions like,

"do you like star wars?"
to disinterested white people
who have been trained to be closed and cold
and internally skeptical of everyone.

i felt so sorry for them.
that they didn't know
that americans are not nice.
that they didn't know they would be made fun of later
over expensive cocktails
drank by insensitive cocks.

i felt so sad for them.
and maybe i shouldn't have, but i did.
i felt like they were being silly,
embarrassing themselves,
without knowing it.
i felt like the enthusiastic grins on their faces
were just making the whole scene so much worse.
i wanted to disappear.
my heart was in physical pain.

this is only the second time i have told this story;

the first was to my therapist.
and even now, i have never adequately expressed
why it hurt so bad,
what happened inside me
that day.

that same terrible feeling flooded my body;
i held back tears.
instead, i asked the front desk to call
the lanky old man's hotel room.

"Father Fitzgerald?
it's Cara Harjes.
from the lobby.
thanks again for the ticket.
herb is so happy.
he came inside
to thank you
but you were gone.
so, thank you.
can i buy you dinner?
a hamburger,
a steak,
a pizza?
anything you'd like.
okay, well,
if you would like
some company,
we're down here."

my heart still ached.

an hour or so later,
jodi was packing her bags
because it was senseless
for her not to watch the rally
on TV at home with her family.

Father Fitzgerald sauntered into the lobby,
looking a bit more alive than before.
i hoped that while he was presumably
upstairs asking God to comfort him,
that he remembered to ask for forgiveness for me
and my tendency to steal candy from babies
and tickets to democratic conventions
from geriatric priests.

"can you please find me some ice for my knee, cara?"

um, yes.
would you like me to walk up into the rocky mountains
and gather water from a fresh snow capped mountain fed lake
and then forge an ice cube tray from the earth?
because i would have.

instead, i found a plastic bag
and filled it from the machine in the hallway.
it worked just as well.

so jodi left,
and the Father and i sat in the lobby,
talking about books
and politics
and just a little bit of our life stories.
then we watched senator obama talk about hope
and change
and new life.

and it was very very good.


Blogger RachelDenbow said...


6:05 PM, September 03, 2008  
Blogger judean said...

great story!

9:05 PM, September 03, 2008  
Anonymous Kelly said...

love it.

6:21 PM, September 04, 2008  
Blogger Melanie said...

i'm glad herbie got to see his hero that night: you.

2:29 PM, September 05, 2008  

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