by Peter Gathje
*This first appeared in the Radical Hospitality Blog
The morning had started cold, but by 10:00am or so it was warm enough that a number of guests were outside sitting at the chairs and picnic tables in the front yard. At one of the tables, two guests were playing a chess game, and this had caught Kathleen’s eye as she looked out the laundry room window. As she watched, she saw another guest, one who struggles with mental illness, begin to have one of his “episodes.” When this happens, this guest gesticulates wildly, and yells at people, sometimes incoherently, sometimes in very threatening language. Kathleen quickly went outside, hoping to settle him down.
A man with a brown hat, who sat watching the chess game, intercepted Kathleen as she approached the agitated guest. He reassured her, “Don’t worry,” he said, “He’s ok. He’s having one of his times. He just needs to work it out.”
Kathleen stood by to make sure, and the man in the brown hat continued, “He’s a good one. When I was first on the streets, he stopped me one day and said, ‘I see you’re walking a lot, going here and there. You need to get to the pawn shop and get you a wheel [a bike]. I’ll pay.’ So, I went with him and he bought me a bike. He’s definitely a good one.”
The Paradigm Shift
Larry comes to Manna House about once every two weeks. He used to come more regularly, but now he has a place and he doesn’t always feel like making the walk. Just as in the past, when he was at Manna House almost every day we were open, he continues to come with vocabulary words to ask me about. These are words he has come across while reading, but of which he doesn’t know the meaning. He carefully creates a list of words and asks me the meaning of each. Today when he came he said to me, “Tell me what paradigm means again. I don’t know if I’ve been using it right.”
So, I said, “A paradigm is a model, a way of seeing things or understanding things. Like, in a previous paradigm people believed the sun revolved around the earth, but in our present paradigm we see that the earth revolves around the sun. We had a paradigm shift.”
Larry responded, “I think I get it. A paradigm shift is like when we say on the streets, ‘the script has been flipped.’”
The Chess Game
Ray comes to Manna House to play chess. He brings his own chessboard (it rolls up, so maybe it should be called a chess “mat” instead of a “board”), and his own chess pieces. Ray takes on all comers and Ray usually wins. Pete comes to Manna House so rarely that I didn’t even recognize him at first, and I had to ask him his name. Ray arrived around 10, and he and Pete began to play.
At first only Moses took an interest (he’s often played Ray and if I remember right he’s only beat him once). But soon others gathered around the picnic table where Ray and Pete were playing to watch, and to perhaps learn some of Ray’s moves or some of Pete’s moves. At times the game went fast and furious with knights and rooks taking pawns, and at other times the pace slowed, with each move of increasingly fewer pieces requiring intense deliberation.
I tried at one point to engage Moses with a few questions about the game. He politely but firmly said, “Quiet, masters at play.” Just before last call for coffee, Pete announced, “Check mate.” Ray, with gentle grace conceded, and they shook hands and both said, “Good game.”
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