I met Larry at a Community Conversations event I attended earlier this week. There was a room full of about 30 people gathered to talk through some of our hopes for this community as it grows. Larry spoke out several times regarding some issues of homelessness. I got the sense that he was the genuine article and would have some very interesting insights, so I reached out to him after the event. He didn't hesitate to participate. We chatted in an office that used to be a juvenile jail cell. Even though it was furnished and cozied up, it was bleak - hard to imagine spending any great amount of time in there, especially against one's will. Larry does really challenging work in that the resolutions are tough to come by, but he seems to genuinely find peace and joy in it. I've been down to my last dollar on several occasions in my life and have felt the difficulties of homelessness nipping at my ankles. Even being that close to it is so terrifying and uncomfortable, but I can't imagine what it's like to be totally there. I'm very glad to know there are people out there like Larry who show up fully for their work. If it suits you, I'll hope you will find some way to contribute to the causes Larry is working for.
Who are you?
Who am I? I don't know - just a person trying to make the world a little bit better, as I see it. And that is all a matter of perspective and certainly a matter of opinion as to why I am passionate about these various issues. But I am. So, I have become engaged in various communities. I attend a meditation group every Tuesday night. And I was there last night and we kind of talked about that. One of the questions that we talked about was What communities do we belong to and to what extent are we needed in them and to what extent do we need those communities? And I volunteer for Partners In Care hospice and have become literally, I think, a member of the community at Aspen Ridge Memory Care. Yesterday we spent the afternoon doing chair yoga - all the folks with dementia and myself - and I fit right in and I feel like a part of the community. And it was a lot of fun. It's a place where there's a lot of joy. We were laughing about some of the things - it was a video instructor for the chair yoga - and it was sort of comical some of the things that she was having us do. So we were all laughing about it and stuff. So it's a community where people would think that things are kind of dire and stuff, but we had a lot of fun. And then with my volunteer activity with the homeless, I feel like I've actually become part of the homeless community. And that a lot of my friends are homeless. So that's a large part of who I am. In spirit, I have dementia. And in spirit, I'm homeless in part of those two communities. So that's how I would describe myself.
Where do you come from and how did you end up here in Bend?
Well, I was born and raised in a town called Pueblo, Colorado. It's a very interesting town. Not something you'd expect to find in Colorado, but there was a steel mill there and so it was a steel town right out of Pennsylvania. In fact, I think it was the fourth largest steel mill in the country at one time behind the ones in Pittsburgh and Cleveland and those huge steel mills. Because there's mining and there's ore in the mountains of southern Colorado - and coal - and so when they got all that stuff, they just decided to put a steel mill close to where all the mines were. And so, as a result, it's a very ethnic town. It's very interesting. It's very similar in size now to the size of Bend. Bend's I guess 80,000 plus, approaching 100,000. Pueblo has been 100,000 people for a long, long time. It's just kind of frozen there. And so for a town of 100,000 people, we have one Catholic church here, basically. There were 15 Catholic churches in Pueblo - in the town that I grew up. Of course, I grew up Catholic. Eastern European, lot of ethnics in the town. Eastern Europeans, Slovenian in my case specifically, but there were a lot of Italians, a lot of people from Mexico, a lot of Irish, just a lot of Germans - a very ethnic town because that's where people migrated to - immigrated to - early in the century when they built the steel mill. From Eastern Europe - my grandmother came from what is now a country called Slovenia. At that time it was the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and subject to all of that strife that was the first World War. And so a very ethnic town. It's a big part of who I am - that ethnicity - and that Catholicism, too, that I was raised with. So, yeah, interesting town.
And how did you end up here in Bend?
Well, I went to a Jesuit college - continuing with my Catholic heritage - I attended a Jesuit college called Regis in Denver. And then shortly after graduating there, I met my first wife and we ended up moving to San Diego. So we lived in San Diego actually for about 15 years, which was really great. I had a liberal arts degree and so, sort of typical of a liberal arts degree, I ended up being a chef. And worked as a chef in San Diego - and those we some pretty idyllic years. And lived on the beach for a while. And then we ended up rescuing goats - they had a goat rescue effort in San Diego, if you could imagine. There are these islands called the San Clemente Islands off the coast of Southern California. And the Spanish used to drop goats there on the island - the Spanish explorers - so that when they sailed around, they could go to the island and gather their goats and have some meat to eat rather than just the seafood all the time. And then when the Spanish stopped coming around, the goats started multiplying and dominating the island, and so they actually had to go in and evacuate the goats from the island because it was becoming overrun with that. So, we got involved with a goat rescue project and started raising goats. And then we ended up living out in the desert behind San Diego, raising goats and ducks and stuff like that - doing a sort of a hippie lifestyle, which was kind of neat. Very near the Mexican border - we could look across from where we lived and there was Tecate, Mexico - so we were right on the border at that time. And then, eventually, my wife decided that she wanted to move... her best friend had moved to Bend - actually had moved to La Pine - and my wife wanted to move up here for that reason. And so we did. I'm really glad - it was like coming home to Colorado because this area is very much like Colorado where I grew up. So that's how I ended up - that was the long migration to ending up in Bend. And then working as a chef, I was able to pretty easily find work at the Sunriver Resort and at Broken Top and at places like that.
What does community mean to you?
I always think of it in terms of energy. You can talk in terms of shared values and stuff, so that's probably a reflection of it, but it is finding people that I'm comfortable being with and around. So, it doesn't necessarily mean for me that I agree with them politically or share the same religion or anything like that. And that's reflected in some of the work that I do with hospice because very often I'm assigned to people who are the extreme opposite of me. In fact, one of the best friends of my life - I consider to be a friend - was a gentleman that I was assigned to. His name was Gene Williams and he's passed away now some years ago. He was a Vietnam veteran and I was an antiwar protestor. And he was a very firm believer and I'm kind of agnostic. I shouldn't say agnostic - that's not an accurate description of me, but certainly I wasn't of the fundamentalist faith that Gene was. He was very conservative Republican and I'm a liberal Democrat - so we were about as different as you can possibly imagine and yet we were as close as two people could be, I think. We were very good friends. He was just a person that I liked being with and he felt that way about me. And we became very tight. And so, yeah, a lot of it is sort of coincidental or synchronistic about how you find the people that you're comfortable with. But it has to do with just having energy that you're comfortable around. And sometimes I'm around people that I'm not comfortable around their energy - which is no judgment on them or me, but that we should be probably in a different community because the energies just don't mesh. I don't know if that makes sense in terms of defining community, but that's sort of how I feel about it. And that's what I experience both, as I say, in my hospice work and in the homeless work. There's some people among the homeless that I'm just very, very comfortable around. And I feel like that's part of my community, again, because there are people that I just feel in sync with.
What do you appreciate most about this community?
Well, I have a lot of good things to say about Bend. I think it's an amazing place. First of all, of course, it's a very beautiful place. And so people, generally I think, are pretty happy here. Beauty is a big thing for me. I think it contributes a lot to mental and emotional health. When you're surrounded by beauty and you participate in beauty... I listen to a lot of music. And I read a lot of poetry. I just enjoy the arts. I enjoy watching movies. What I call exercising my right brain. And I think that a lot of us get a lot exercise in our right brain in just living in Bend because it is such a beautiful place. Even when the winters can be harsh and stuff there's still a lot of beauty in the mountains and in the winter sports and the winter landscapes. So it's a very beautiful place and I think the behavior of the people in town reflects that. And I can speak from experience. I used to run the Family Kitchen - the homeless meal - that must have been about 10 years ago or plus. At the time, we were down to our last dollars. We were only doing it two nights a week and a sack lunch on Saturday. And we decided that there was a greater need than that, so we wanted to expand it - expand the number of days and the amount of service - even though we were down to very little money. But we just reached out to the community and appealed to the community for support and it's incredible how Bend responded. So now it's a very healthy program - Family Kitchen - six days a week and doing very well and in a very good financial position. For Bend, in general, I feel very good about it. There are more things to be done. And we are working on getting a camp. As I engage homeless people, they tell me they can get just about anything they need in Bend in terms of food and clothing and so forth - and camping equipment - but not a place to stay. So that's one additional thing we need to work on. We do have some shelters, but they're chronically full. So I'm working on getting a camp and so far the community has been very receptive. Everybody thinks that's a pretty good idea that we need to organize a chaotic situation that we have right now. With people camping everywhere, you know - in alleys, behind buildings, out on BLM land, out in Forest land - just a real chaotic situation that's causing a lot of stress for people. So if we can organize that I think it will be better. I expect that Bend as a community will respond very positively again, as we have before. I think it's a very remarkable community.
What are your thoughts regarding Bend's growth?
Well, it was inevitable - a place being so beautiful. It's funny because I've never lived anywhere but places that are beautiful. So I came from Colorado. Pueblo is very near Colorado Springs - it's about 20 miles away, kind of like the way Redmond and Bend are. Colorado Springs, when I was a kid was only 30,000 people - it's almost identical to what Bend is experiencing now. I hope it's... I guess that it's not gonna be exactly identical because now Colorado Springs is like 500,000 people, which is an incredible amount of growth. And, in that situation, we had a lot of people moving from Texas. Here we have a lot of people moving from California. And so the natives - of which I was one - people would say, Well, we gotta claim being native and we gotta resist all these people moving here. And I never participated in that because I just realized that it's a beautiful place and people are free to live wherever they want to live. And so that's what's happening here. We can't be the last one in and shut the door behind ourselves. We have a beautiful place and people are going to want to move here. And they should be allowed to move here - it's a free country. But if we can work to keep the services and the infrastructure up so that the place remains livable, that would be important, too. So it's gonna be a challenge, that's for sure. It is inevitable and it would be selfish to try to shut it off. I lived in Boulder, Colorado, for a while, which is also a very beautiful place. And there were a lot of efforts to restrict growth there which drove the property prices sky high so that nobody working class or poor could live there in Boulder. Because of the growth restrictions, things got very expensive. And that's kind of what's happening to Bend, so we have to be careful about that. Even middle class people can't afford to live here. And certainly we need working class people, as well, to be a whole community. So we have to be careful about that - make sure we have that kind of housing.
What do you wish for the future?
I really hope for a lessening of the division in the country. That we could experience what I experienced with Gene - that even though we were so far apart on so many issues that we could be close to each other in our humanity. So, just a lessening of the division. And see that our common humanity... we can participate in that beyond the smaller divisions that we have now. That's what I would hope for - for everybody.
How would you spend your time if you had more of it?
As I said, participating in beauty. And I try to do that anyway. It's something that you can do all the time - listening to music, reading a lot of poetry, writing some poetry, spending time in nature. I like to ride my bike a lot out into the country - out east of town, I really like it out into the desert where there are a lot of juniper and sage. So just participating in beauty because there's so much of it in the world. And a lot of it manmade in terms of music and poetry and art. So, yeah, participating in beauty would be my answer, I think, to that.
Do you have anything else you'd like to say?
I'm glad that I ended up in Bend. It's a really remarkable community, I think. We're in a place now where I think we can do a lot of things that would set the example for the rest of the country in terms of how to go about things - how to live together as a community - because we do have so many people that are happy to be here. We have so many skilled people - very highly intelligent people, very caring people - so we have an opportunity to build a community that takes on all the challenges that modern day presents and do it in a very, very loving and positive way. So that's the hope that I see for Bend - it's a remarkable place.
And then Larry texted me this poem later:
He made his way across the cobblestones of the narthex, dominion of the catechumens, the contrite, the penitent, while the Word was being read from the old scrolls, hymn of ancient anger, relics and voodoo regalia providing scant comfort, ambulation difficult now he depends on the wheel and it's sacred movement, the young priest insisting that Yahweh is not stone, is not fire, is not the wind, none a part of his tomblike apartment, a silence providing doomed comfort, a hush violated by disembodied voices, of his dead, didactic grandfather, of his estranged, addicted mother, of the devil himself, denying the respite of sleep and sweet dreams, riding the bus, feeling the benevolent breeze, the sun warming his limbs, Sunday his day to hear the Word sung loud, echoing the voices explaining the nature of sin, of his sin, suggesting demonic possession, forgiveness his last, desperate chance to silence the wastrel whispers, to take for granted the sacred cry of the wheels of his walker on the narthex cobblestones, wind and stone and sun providing tantric talisman, the rain drowning the voices if only for a time