We pull up at the White Lane exit from the 99 in Bakersfield, a sunburned young man, thirty-ish, is holding a cardboard sign. I dig for my wallet as the light holds back the rush, I toss it to Leann, she fishes out paper.
We pull up to him, he looks up, more surprised by our red Smart car than by the gift. We grin, he grins, we buzz off.
“Did you do that in memory of Hal?” Leann asks.
It has been little more than a week since Hal met us at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, then after a quick stop at Starbucks, hurried us to Trinity Mennonite Church to prepare for the morning service. At an interchange enroute, a man stood waving a cardboard sign. Hal pulls over, reaches to a ready kitty, hands the man some cash saying,
“Here you go, buddy.”
Warm, equal, like passing grub at a camp-out, no condescension of charitable giving, no strings in moral or religious attachment, it is the tone of passing the food down a breadline. I recall that he spent years working on the streets, I admire his modeling a flattened playing field.
A week later Hal is gone. His life dashed in a motorcycle crash. And we are in Phoenix for Hal again, this time for the memorial service for Hal Leigh Shrader. 1967-2015.
It is hard. Hard like Hal defined hard times. (Once when helping his daughters do math homework, he answered the complaint, “But Daddy, it’s hard,” with one of his classic one-liners—“Hard things are hard.”)
As we drive to the church, the man is still waiting by the exit lane. Same man? We cannot tell. We hand him the bill with Hal’s words, “Here you go, Buddy,” and he replies, “Gotcha.”
“Gotcha?” We will think about that. What did he get? A tone of voice that breathed level respect, and he gave it back. Gotcha.
At the service there are dozens of little reminders of why we loved this man so much, but for the thousand people gathered, the opening line said what needed to be said.
“Welcome to this service of remembrance . . .you are all here because Hal welcomed you, welcomed you into his life, into the circle of loving acceptance.”
In his life, theologian, pastor, prophet, agitator, peacemaker, reconciler, father, spouse, friend, Hal said a lot of very insightful and wise things.
But perhaps none better than, “Here you go, buddy.”