Keep Moving

A picture of Mike from 2011.

A picture of “Mark” from 2011.

My friend died earlier this week. Lots of these kinds of stories end up with me, the narrator, telling you how he died, in an attempt to elicit sadness and pity from you. I’m going to skip all that and tell you how he lived, in an attempt to make you laugh (because that is what always ended up happening when we were in the same room together). I’m also going to write mostly in the present tense, because I’m not ready for him to be gone yet.

Physically, Mark and I are about as different as two people can be (other than the fact that we are both skinny). I’m about six-foot-five and he is barely scratching five-foot-even. I’m white, he is black. I’m 24, and he’s in his 40s.

Looks aside, Mark and I could be brothers. We’re always competing to see who can put more hot sauce in his food. One time I made a jumbo jar of painfully hot pickled jalapeños for him and said, “Bring the jar back when you finish.” Mark walked in the next day with an empty jar, conked the jar down on the counter, and said with an unimpressed look on his face, “Dude, I coulda’ fed those to a baby on the street.”

As a matter of fact, Mark is always complaining about my cooking. Other guys in the Ministry Center will tilt their heads in approval when they’re eating my food, or offer up little “mmmms” and headshakes of disbelief at how good my Dirty Rice is. Mark usually finishes and says things like, “Oh, so Sill is hiding the salt shaker again” or more often, “That was okay.” But then he’ll walk up to me later, out of earshot of the guys cleaning the kitchen, and tell me it was really good. Those compliments mean more than a hundred dinner table grunts or thumbs-ups, because they are so closely guarded and rarely awarded.

Almost a year ago, I told Mark that I wanted to start taking guitar lessons. He asked me how I was going to play Michael Jackson songs on the guitar, as if anything else were worthless. I told him that I was more of a Prince guy. (I don’t think we ever resolved that fight.) Regardless of his low opinion of my taste in music, Mark showed up to the Ministry Center a few months ago with a used guitar that his roommate was attempting to sell. I strummed it and started to pull out my wallet. He gestured for me to put it away, overdramatically wincing at my playing, and said, “Save that money for lessons, man, and let me give you some extra to not play that thing down here.” Mike had gotten the guitar for free because he told his roommate that it was for a family member.

Mark and I really became friends when I went on a retreat with him and some other Emmaus guys. Sitting on the floor of the retreat center late at night and eating cheeseburgers (loaded with jalapeños, of course), we talked about God and why He was so hard to get a hold of, and how life sucks sometimes but there are some things that make it worthwhile, like Mark’s sister and Emmaus. Those unforced, organic conversations are so easy to have with Mark. His MO is usually to complain about things, whether it’s Rahm Emanuel (Chicago’s mayor) or the weather or my food, but it’s rarely serious. When it IS serious, he lets you know, and then he talks about it with you.

He is a smart, thoughtful man, and, once you learn how to read his sarcasm, one of the wisest guys I’ve ever met. I heard him pray once, on a trip to Steubenville Ohio (on a visit to see a group that had come to Chicago for a week to minister to the men). It was the kind of prayer that changes your faith on a fundamental level. One of the things he said, paraphrased in a note I jotted down on a Popeye’s napkin, was: “God, sometimes I look around and I don’t know what I’m doing. But then I remember that Jesus was born, and people were expecting him to do these great things, and he was probably confused and unsure of himself. But He kept moving toward you. You know exactly where we’re supposed to go, and you’re whispering to us, just like you whispered to Jesus when He asked you to help Him out. Jesus was a better listener. So help me to listen, and help me to keep moving.”

Keep moving, Mark! I’ll see you around.

  1. Glad to hear he’s able to talk directly to Jesus now! Thanks for the insight and love done well.

  2. Amazing, Thank you and thank Mark!

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