It was 7:00 pm at Panera - the place of many existential "lightbulbs". But this would be more simple than that.
I was trying to figure out the tea situation and grossly uneducated on things like caffeine. I asked him what he thought; we exchanged names and comfortable smirks. "Al, I need to sleep tonight. I can't be staying up like these kids." He made a sly remark that I'll leave to my memory. We laughed.
"Save me a seat when you get up there, Lauren."
He found me upstairs and sat down. He works for a company that handles evictions and reclaiming of money and goods; I asked if it was a hard job for his emotions. Al laughed. He proceeded to give me different scenarios where his job is necessary, and where compassion or emotions don't take precedence. All of these scenarios, by the way, included us being married with a newborn baby (remember: I said Al was sly and charismatic; something like subtle jazz playing while you're falling asleep on the couch).
I asked him what gave him hope; joy.
And after Al convinced me to join his on-the-side nonprofit for youth wrestlers as a staff fundraiser, I laughed and left Panera to meet a friend.
Me and the friend wandered a bit; sat on Portrait Gallery steps; people watched; ate crepes with nutella and strawberries; talked about things like building and renewal and the Lord. Laughing was nice.
He asked if I wanted to go to a African concert. I said yes, because before we'd met up, I was walking around the city waiting for something to happen, as I do most days.
And what's funny? Most days, something does happen.
So we went to a concert of some large artists from Guinea, with his friend from Guinea. The concert started at 8 pm, but his friend insisted that us showing up at 11 pm was fine (as we were running on African time, which made me so very happy as I usually run on "Cuban time").
When we showed up at 11 pm, no one was there save a few smiling men. They said - soon; people will get here soon. They too mentioned "African time".
The music started at 1:05 am.
The three of us laughed. I salsa danced to Guinean music. We shared rum and coke - with rum straight from my island home, thanks to my friend who'd acquired it...somehow.
The night ended as most delirious ones do - laughs, mishaps, too-deep questions.
I thought about Al and the African people of Guinea. I went to bed with a hint of rum hanging in my teeth like a favorite memory. It was all simple, it was all a gift, it was all something that you just needed to be present for, in order to appreciate.
Maybe the Lord is teaching me, finally, to be present. Even when your mind wants to run to familiar dark corners. Be present. Even when you want to run.
Some lessons are simple; even if excruciating; even then; full; a promise for more.