Monday, February 24, 2014

Patronage, Part I

Patronage is like gardening, anyone can do it at any level. But you have to keep after it. You have to pay attention. Yesterday, I was digging decorative rocks out of a garden plot. These rocks sink into the ground after awhile, and you have to either dig them up or buy new ones to put on top.

Two women riding pink bikes with baskets and tassels on the handlebars stopped in front of the house. The older one said, "Are you Rolf?" The woman reminded me we had met. She had been director of the Ignation Volunteers in our city, a group that includes my wife. They believe in being contemplatives in action. This was her daughter with her.

They asked if my wife was around and I said she was in the hot tub doing her crossword puzzle. Pink bikes, a stop out of nowhere. For some reason, Girl Scout cookies came to mind. I supposed they were selling something. I dragged my feet getting Sharon. My wife needs time alone. She treasures her Sundays, the respite from the week and we have done so many jobs in our lives that needed us 24/7. That’s what a career in the Navy earns you, the right to a quiet day doing the crossword in the hot tub.

The mother told me her daughter was leaving on Tuesday to go back to South Sudan. The young woman is working for the UN Development Programme to promote democracy through elections. She had been evacuated in November. Four US planes came and took her out of country when all American citizens were told to leave. She said that most people had vouchers to get on the plane, but she only had a promissory note and she expected to get a bill. She didn’t mind paying. She’d known that had been the deal going in; she might have to pay to be evacuated. In our embassy in South Sudan, only the Ambassador, the Marine Guards and the Defense Attaché were left behind.

The young woman’s bosses told her she had to go back this week, and now, she says, she doesn’t want to go. She sees no reason, “Elections will destroy the place,” she says, and she told us, her heart had been broken when she was told to evacuate.

She was a 34 year old woman wearing a child’s helmet on a pink bike, and a light scarf wrapped around her neck like they do in the subsaharan areas of the planet— women to cover your head or your face. Men to keep the collar of the body armor from chaffing your neck.

Sharon and I realized they had come to see us because we are people who know what it’s like to go somewhere out of duty. Or maybe they hadn't sought us out. Contemplatives in action believe in a divine hand. Contemplatives in action are people who know when it’s futile long before our masters, then do our duty anyway. The young woman said it had felt like a breakup— she meant with a lover— and now she was in the period when she had to find a way to make the relationship end. Betrayals destroy any sort of love.

We gave them water. I told them about the wolf tone and the strange harmonics of it. I told the young woman to write everything down. Keep it. That's what I did. No one will remember this, I told her, unless you record it. I told her not to remind anybody about the bill for the plane ticket. Sometimes they forget. Sometimes someone actually lets you off the hook.

I think the purpose of patronage is to give hope.


  1. You should have a like button here, Rolf.

  2. Thanks, Jack. Had to put it in at the top. (I'm still working this out, eh?)