The 2-hour drive from San Jose to Sacramento is not too long, but long enough to make you feel like you are in a daydream towards the second half of the route as you jump on the 5 North. Before each journey to Sacramento, I have happy expectations of being able to organize my thoughts during the long drive and contemplate my life. But driving takes a lot of energy, and I always find myself much more focused on the road, than on the meaning of my life.
There are beautiful Californian hills on either side of 680 North; hills that are lush green during winter and early spring. The highway bends through these hills steadily climbing and falling much like a quiet wave traveling through a serpentine sea towards the shore. Occasionally I can catch a glimpse of a hawk floating in the sky most likely on look out for his afternoon meal. There is something majestic about these birds, something pure, each time I see them I am filled with a sense of wonder, I envy their freedom, and admire the grace and poise with which they remain suspended in the sky as the wind pushes up their outstretched wings.
But when the hills have long disappeared in my rear view mirror, I no longer see any hawks floating in the wind. I see endless flat farm fields of various crops and irrigated soil. Old rusted tractors that look more like relics from a simpler time, than farming machines that are still of any productive use. Occasionally a crop dusting plane will fly dangerously low to the highway and maneuver about acrobatically in the air, the pilot no doubt enjoying himself very much. The last portion of my drive to Father George’s apartment is a one-hour vertical stretch down the 5 North; each side of the highway is evenly complimented with these flat farm fields. As I pass the ’20 miles’ to Sacramento sign and the side of the highway starts filling up with trees and greenery, I know I am almost there.
I park my car in front of his apartment building, which is home to elderly residents who have no other place to stay. Looking up to his window, which he always keeps open during the summer, I call him on the phone and let him know that I have arrived. After many visits, I know exactly what to bring and what is unnecessary. With my backpack around my shoulders and with my inflatable bed in my hands, I climb the outside stairs of his building and wait by the door for him to open it. Father George greets me with a warm smile, and asks me how my drive over was as he hobbles towards his apartment door with me following slowly behind.
His studio apartment is filled with books on either side, books about all aspects of the development of orthodox Christianity throughout various European empires. There are also thick binders that contain a year’s worth of work that served as blueprints of published essays discussing in great detail Christian orthodoxy and the men who pioneered its spread throughout the world. On the wall by his bed you see numerous icons of the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus. There are also a few icons on the wall in front of his work desk where Father George keeps his computer and spends his days submersed in his work, getting together all the notes he needs to finish another analytical essay.
After catching up a little on the latest news of our lives, Father George and I drive to a near by all you can eat American buffet. As we eat our dinner we talk about various topics, mostly observations we each have made about the people around us and the nature of our society in general. His humanity is undeniably expressed in his never wavering eyes. And his blunt way of speaking and sophisticated sense of humor make our dinner conversations very meaningful.
Many times Father George relates different stories from his life.
Like how his neighbor’s cat would jump into his yard with her tail strongly raised keeping his two big dogs in check because they knew she was in charge. And how one day she jumped into the wrong back yard and met her fate when the big dog in that particular yard was not so feline friendly. Or how Father George as an adolescent decided he was going to take school seriously when one day he followed his father to work and realized how hard is to make a living without a college degree. A few years later he decided to go to a Christian Orthodox university to become a priest. But life in Romania as a communist country was very difficult and oppressive. He was even put in jail for being a priest by anti-religious communist officials. After being released from jail, Father George took his heart in his hand, and made the list of all the men who have courageously escaped by crossing the Hungarian border.
So I drive back home the next morning after spending a day with Father George. I know even as I’m driving that Father George is in his apartment talking on the phone with various people that call him throughout the day seeking his advice and counsel to the problems in their lives, or just need someone to listen as they unload the heavy burden they carry. Often times he raises money for people in need, like a young lady in Romania he helped with her difficult and expensive medical treatment.
Father George may have difficulty walking without his cane, his right arm and leg paralyzed from a brain aneurism, but his spirit soars high and free. And through his well-grounded faith, he remains suspended at a high level of wisdom and understanding that draw people to him. I have benefited very much spiritually by our friendship, and I am grateful to Father George for teaching me how to live my life in communion with God.
Copyright Stefan Scortea, 2016