HELPERS & MUSES
Excerpts from some published favorites.
Links below will take you to the print and online versions:
Our birthdays are two days – although a few years – apart, and we delight in this.
“Oh, we have to celebrate!” she says. “Oh, I’ll take you to the club.”
“That would be fun, that would be fun,” I say, all giggles. “I’d love to go clubbing together.”
I’m pretty sure “going to the club” means something else to a 102-year-old, but I indulge my imagination for a moment thinking about how awesome that would be, clubbing like a Kardashian with Roxie Moradian.
Whitmore’s expeditions help him champion wilderness.
He has served in a number of leadership positions for the Sierra Club’s Tehipite Chapter in Fresno, including chairman, and led local lobbying for the California Wilderness Act of 1984. The massive expanse protected as a result of the act includes the Ansel Adams, Dinkey Lakes and Monarch wildernesses, along with major additions to the John Muir Wilderness. The protections also prevented a proposed highway over Minaret Summit. In the 1970s, he was heavily involved in the creation of the Kaiser Wilderness and Mineral King.
When leaders of Faith in Community gather, board member Rabbi Rick Winer has been known to set the scene with the start of a joke.
“The Muslim, the Jew and the Christian walk into the church or the bar — not the bar,” he clarifies with a laugh, “or the restaurant or whatever. … ”
But this really isn’t a joke, he adds. “It’s real.”
Last week, this very real group — a coalition of roughly 25 congregations and organizations working to create a more “just, compassionate, equitable and thriving” Fresno — walked into the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno to receive a “Spirit of Abraham Award” for their work.
Among them was Andy Levine, Faith in Community’s executive director, who was raised Jewish; Bryson White, associate director and a Christian community pastor at Saint Rest Baptist Church in southwest Fresno; and Reza Nekumanesh, the Muslim director of the Islamic center in northeast Fresno and a board member for Faith in Community.
They were a fitting trio for an award named after the prophet Abraham, who is considered a patriarch of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
As a group of homeless children open a pile of donated presents, a stream of tears flow down 14-year-old Armando Ibarra’s face. Armando hasn’t opened his yet as the others – about 20 children who live in a string of motels along Highway 99 in Fresno – tear into large, brightly colored packages that make the room buzz with excitement.
This scene at Tree of Life Café & Bakery in downtown Fresno is so different from their everyday realities of living on a strip of Parkway Drive known infamously as Motel Drive.
“It kinda sucks,” Armando says, trying to explain his tears, “cuz’ some of the motels are nasty and infested and have rats and stuff. I have rats, but it’s not that much. Cockroaches, spiders and all that stuff – it’s just disgusting. Especially sometimes their sheets are not that clean and all that. Sometimes they get sick. Especially around where they live, there’s a lot of dirty people, like drug addicts, homeless.”
In a small Fresno apartment with bare white walls and few furnishings lives a musician who recently received the nation’s highest honor for folk and traditional arts.
The sound of Bounxeung Synanonh’s khaen, a free-reed mouth organ made of 16 lengths of yellow bamboo, makes him miss his hometown in Laos surrounded by lush green forest, and a time when he could still see the world around him.
The 67-year-old went blind when he was 15, for reasons unknown, but that didn’t keep him from mastering the instrument he loves.
Farm worker Ivan Mendoza is riding his bicycle down a busy central Fresno street carrying a bag of recyclables so he can “buy some milk or something” when he comes upon a sign, “Need prayer?” hanging off the side of a pop-up tent.
Pulling his bike over Friday morning, he’s greeted by Virginia La Salle and Linda Crowder under a tarp canopy in a vacant dirt lot. The women put their arms around his shoulders and they huddle together for an intimate prayer at the intersection of Belmont and Van Ness avenues, just off Highway 180.
“The women around here are really jealous,” their daughter Marlene Masten said about their senior living community, The Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens, “because he’ll be sitting there and say, ‘Look at her, she’s my girl. Isn’t she beautiful?’”
Marlene said her father has always said, “‘You have to tell the love of your life you love her, all the time’ – and he does.”
A group of Syrian refugees and Christian churchgoers in Fresno met last year with a simple greeting: “Peace be upon you.”
The members of Wesley United Methodist Church taught themselves how to say it in Arabic during a Sunday service before walking across their parking lot after church to introduce themselves to their new neighbors in El Dorado Park, a community just west of Fresno State.
Deep friendships have formed since then that continue to support a growing number of Syrian refugees in Fresno.