Old Men Dream is the title of the book I’m currently reading. It was written by and old and dear friend, Pete Fullerton. If you’re of a certain age you may remember him as the bass guitarist of the 1960s folk group We Five. I first met Pete and his family in 1983 when I was a student at St. Patrick’s Seminary. After some hesitation I got involved in the Youth Ministry Program at St. William’s and St. Nicholas’ Catholic Churches in Los Altos, California. The two parishes combined and hired Greg Kremer as the Youth Minister. Pete and his wife Sue were an integral part of the ministry and I soon became friends with them and their 5 children. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 25 years.
When I first met Pete and Sue he was working for Lockheed and doing some charity work as he had time. A few years later they made the decision that Pete would devote his full time to the charity, Truck of Love. They do incredible work and I’ve been blessed to be able to support it; please check out their website. In 1997 after much prayer and discussion, Pete decided he wanted to live as a homeless person for a few months; Old Men Dream is his chronicle of this experience. Pete has always been a deeply spiritual man and he took the name “Old Man” from the Biblical Book of Joel: “Old men shall dream dreams and young men shall see visions.” As I read this book I’m finding that it’s surfacing all sorts of memories, and thoughts about his journey. Here they are in no particular order, save the order that they come out of my brain:
- I’ve always been amazed at the simple courage Pete shows. We all claim to believe that God will take care of us and has our back, but Pete lives like he believes it. I’m ashamed to admit how much time and energy I spend making sure my stuff is safe. There is a point in his book where he is robbed of a few dollars and some food; it’s not much in the grand scheme of things, but when you’re living on the lowest rung it doesn’t take much to be devastating. Rather than act with anger or seeking revenge Pete reflects on what he can learn from this and how he can use this experience. There is a unique cruelty in the homeless from stealing from each other but other homeless people provide the easiest, and perhaps the only reasonable targets.
- I can’t even begin to list all the thing Pete has taught me but the lesson I use the most is this: everyone has eyes and I try to look everyone in the eye, no matter the encounter. Think it’s obvious? OK, next time you’re at a restaurant and the server reaches around you to remove your empty plate (so he can wash it), see how deliberate you have to be to see what he looks like. I try to pick up the plate and hand it to him; sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. If Pete were a priest he would excellent at hearing confessions because he has the ability to extend his trust and love within the first few words.
- This is related to the previous point, but he has the gift to make anyone feel important. I’ve done some work with the homeless and I know that for many of them the most crushing part of life isn’t hunger but loneliness. I find much the same in hospice. Just today one of my patients joked that several people don’t call her anymore because they assume she must be dead by now. Many patients feel the crush of loneliness because they are too sick to go out, but are also not visited as often because they are seen as “not quite as alive as the rest of us.” This is particularly true with people who suffer from Alzheimer’s or other dementia. They can’t carry on a conversation anymore and may not be the person we once knew, but they still have not lost their need for connection.
More later, I’m sure. If you want to buy the book, it’s available only through the Truck of Love website.