Open fields were flattened into dusty pans by the Colorado sun, and an old thermostat shaped like a coke bottle read eighty-six degrees that noon. I stood in a narrow line of shade cast by a dusty porch pillar. A thin layer of dirt and cobwebs clung to the house’s beige siding, and behind me, the wide lawn was yellowed by heat. Rain refused to land in those weeks; wildfire smoke colored the sky day and night.
At my feet sat two bags of medically tailored, frozen meals that I volunteered to deliver to Project Angel Heart clients, all of whom live with a life-challenging illness. On this porch in a Denver suburb, I knocked and waited, hoping that a favorite client was well enough to make it to the door. As the sun baked my bare calves, I heard “Omar” approach. Tall and a bit stooped, he opened the door slowly, and smiled. One of his eyes was bluer than the other, and light shone from his brown skin like it does through oak leaves in November. I was fifty-two that summer and wouldn’t be surprised if Omar was twice my age.
When he asked how I was that day, I told him, I’m doing fine, but I get discouraged about this country sometimes, you know? Only six months earlier, President Obama had left office. Omar thought for a moment, leaning his tall body against the door frame. Then he touched his heart and said, Just look in here. Hand on chest, he reminded me: This is where it all starts.
A few Fridays later, Omar’s blue shirt bore a stain of food debris where a military honor might have been pinned. How are you doing? I asked him.
I feel pretty good, then not so good. He said. I got hope, though. I do have hope.
What are you hoping for?
Well, it’s a general hope, he told me, and the lines of his face softened. We got some problems in this world. But the Creator put it all there. Ain’t nothing missing.
That is the truth, I responded.
Here’s the thing, he went on, the inside and the outside, you know, one of those is more important. And that’s the inside. He looked past me into the distance. As he took a deep breath, the bones of his sternum rose, suggesting he could gently lift up and fly away. The subjective is the inside. And culture can’t touch that. That’s what my mother taught me. What we make on the inside? That’s the real culture.
I haven’t seen Omar in almost a year. I volunteer less often lately, and my routes are more varied. One of the last Fridays I saw him, Omar opened the door wide and invited me inside. I have a bag for you, he told me. In those pre-Covid days, volunteers returned clients’ delivery bags to Angel Heart’s office so they could be re-used.
I stepped from the porch into his living room. The house was bright inside, with a comfortable clutter of books and papers scattered about. A 1940’s jazz tune swirled out of his stereo.
How are you today? I asked.
I’m not so well. It’s hard when you’re old, he responded.
Well, I love the music you have on.
I don’t like the TV. I just listen to this all day. He waved his long fingers toward the stereo. It’s messy in here, he said, shuffling toward the kitchen. On the wall was a framed photo of a younger Omar, with round cheeks and dark hair. And amid family photos, a portrait of a brown-eyed Jesus gazed down from the wall. Reds and greens animated his Kente cloth robe as he held his hands out in welcome, at the table of communion.
Omar returned with the delivery bag. This music makes me want to dance, I said. He grinned at me and straightened his back.
Well, you go right ahead. I wish I could join you! He moved one foot out to the side, then back to the center again. Here we go! he said. We stood giggling together for a moment, with Jesus looking on.
I said, Well, you just gotta be sure and not dance too fast after I go. Take it easy now! He smiled, then lowered his head and walked me to the door.
Oh, I’ll be careful, don’t you worry. And thanks for the food. You take care out there!
I stepped off his porch, heading to my next delivery, as the door closed behind me.