“Who smells like grape bubblegum?!”
I asked a line of folks waiting to eat at a soup kitchen one summer day in 2011. Anthony was the culprit, as he showed me his grape cigarello. That was the beginning of one of the closest friendships I have been gifted in Uptown.
A few weeks after meeting Anthony, Emma and I moved into 4942 North Kenmore – just a few doors down from where Anthony had been living for nearly 20 years at the Aragon Arms Hotel. Those first weeks Anthony showed great courage accepting so many of our offers as we tried to start living hospitably in our new neighborhood.
Anthony was the first person we invited to dinner in our new home, and he showed up early! We brought him in, sat him at the kitchen table, and asked him to help us get ready by cutting the summer squash. Anthony held the knife I’d given him up and looked at me in disbelief: “You gave me a knife?”
“Yes, I gave you a knife” I replied, “I need help getting dinner ready.”
“But you gave me a knife!” Anthony replied in disbelief.
I was a little impatient at this point because I had a timing situation in trying to get the whole meal ready and I really did need his help.
“Well then, please cut the squash!”
Every once and awhile Anthony would speak about this first experience in our home and how unbelievable the trust he received from us was. I will always remember it the other way around – how much trust Anthony gave us by stepping into our lives.
Anthony made himself a regular in our home. Not only coming over for dinners, but sharing our first bon-fire in the back yard, sitting on the porch with us, and helping us get situated in our apartment. It wasn’t long before we started inviting others to the house and Anthony took on the role of door-man. He called himself that and was always eager to jump up when the bell rang and welcome in whomever was at the gate.
Anthony wasn’t afraid to share with others about his relationship with us, but he never let his love for us get to our heads. We would fight over things like the legitimate need for prostitution so that prostitutes can eat, or about whether or not Jesus had a brother and other theological issues. Anthony and I had our biggest fight this Fall, and I think what I learned will be the most important gift he left me with.
One of my biggest flaws is my ability to walk away from people when I’ve had enough or don’t know what else to do. Anthony never liked this about me and routinely gave me a hard time about relationships I had lost due to arguments or misunderstandings. Anthony never sympathized with me but instead, encouraged me to make peace. He didn’t try to fix me – but he tried to show me it doesn’t have to be as complicated as I make it. Making peace can be as simple as saying you are sorry, or just showing back up.
On the day of our Fall Festival last year, Anthony and I had a big misunderstanding. I thought he was complaining too much and told him in frustration that he could leave if he didn’t want to be there – no one was forcing him to stay. I saw the hurt on his face as I rushed off to deal with other issues at the party.
Anthony stayed gone for a few weeks, yet, instead of waiting for me to come to him, Anthony sought me out and showed me how much he loved me by making peace with me. We talked it out. He reminded me that I knew how much he hated crowds. I hadn’t been attentive to his needs, and then brushed off his devoted presence. Anthony was so loyal to our friendship and to JUSTembrace, that he wouldn’t abandon us even when I had overlooked his felt needs as an introvert, and failed to give him a role that helped him to thrive.
I am so often oblivious to the needs of those around me, pushing my dreams and plans forward, unaware of the impact my speed is having on those trying to join me. Anthony’s willingness to fight for our friendship, and to push me to fight for many other friendships, is the legacy he left me. The last word we have from Anthony was a voicemail he left an estranged friend, telling her that I was happy he’d invited her to our house for Christmas. Anthony passed away a few days later, never seeing the fruit of his work to restore relationships. I will always be grateful for the peacemaker, Anthony Garcia, and the many ways his friendship made my life richer and my character stronger.