Bugs, Aliens, BBQ: A Nelson Update
A month ago I wrote a post about a man I met at Elevate Detroit’s Communi-D barbecue in Hazel Park. I didn’t ever get to post it on Life After Death (to self) but you can read the original on the Elevate Detroit blog.
The story was about Nelson, an older man who was slow to talk but began pouring his story out to me. Some of that was interesting autobiographical information: where he lived, his family. Other parts were a bit odder: defending the world from alien invasion and being offered the medal of honor.
Ultimately it didn’t matter what he was talking about. He was just filled with joy that someone was interested in listening. That was the point.
I have been asked about him several times now and every time I have to say, “I haven’t seen him in a month, there hasn’t been another Hazel Park barbecue.” Well, Saturday was second weekend, which is when we host the barbecue there so I was excited to get back and find him again.
We walked up a little early, the grill was just getting started and people were beginning to gather. He wasn’t there yet. That was okay. We were early.
I waited around a bit. I looked around for some time, but there was no sign of him. I waited. Eventually the grill was cooking, we went through the line, talked to a lot of other people, but I didn’t see Nelson at all. I was a little disappointed. I was honestly looking forward to sitting with him again, hearing more of his stories.
Or, I thought, maybe I want Nelson here for some other reason…
It was true. I wanted Nelson to be there for reasons bigger than being friendly and fun conversation. I wanted Nelson to be there to show me that barbecues were working. I wanted him to be there to confirm that we were really bridging gaps, enhancing life for people in that community, having some earthly (and by extension heavenly) impact.
It was a moment of real humility when I looked around at the 50+ people who were having fun, eating burgers, petting each other’s pets, speaking different languages, serving each other and realized I was wondering if what we were doing was “successful.” I had set up Nelson as a litmus test for success that was unfair and inaccurate.
I just shook my head and had to smile. I sent up a small apology prayer, took a bite of my hot dog and began a great conversation with the woman at our table who was passing around political petitions. She told Jenny and I about growing up in Hazel Park, how lucky she was that all of her children were in the area still and that many of her friends have lived her for 30+ years. She began pouring her life into me, just as Nelson had.
Nelson did show up that day. He walked up and sat down at the table with us. “Nelson!” I said. “How are you?”
“Did I meet you here last time?” He said, looking a little confused.
“I… um… yes,” I said, sticking my hand out, “I am Cole. This is Jenny.”
My litmus test for success didn’t remember me. But for the second month in a row, Nelson came to a park where neighbors, kids, pets, people and friends all converged for food, a good time, great friends on a beautiful summer day.