Reflection by a Staff Member - Ode to a Mentor

by Lisa Roncella - Hospitality Monitor

About nine years ago, I met one of the most beautiful people I know, Michael.  I met Michael while doing laundry on the corner of 24th and Florida.  I don’t know what Michael saw in me, I was a walking train wreck, but one day he invited me to coffee.  Over many weeks that turned into years, Michael and I got to know each other. He would share his spiritual journey and insights.  He was so deep that I would be left lost as the beauty of his thoughts and insights bathed me in wonder.  Sometimes as desperate as I was to catch a drop of that beauty, I would just tell him my mind is too damaged by drugs to follow.

He witnessed my endless tears with love and compassion.  I shared my love of the Prayer of St. Michael the archangel, which begins “Defend us in battle…”  I knew I was either dancing or battling with my demons.  Michael was a physical manifestation of St. Michael in my mind.  Whenever I asked a question that had no simple answer, Michael would say "Who knows?" Then he would take a long pause, and answer "God Knows" Over time I learned to respond, "God Knows."

I remember the day I shared with Michael the fact I had sideswiped a big rig on the freeway in the East Bay while under the influence of psychiatric meds, ending up passed out in the center median of the freeway; never mind, the fact that I didn’t end up with a DUI.  I woke up the next morning in the emergency room amazed and deeply grateful that I hadn’t killed myself or someone  else.

Sharing my amazement with Michael, he said, “Grace” as in Amazing Grace.  In that moment, I was rendered speechless as I sat in humble awe before Michael.  All braggadocio vanished.

The other day while wandering down 24th Street, Michael and I once again crossed paths. He grabbed me in a deep soul shattering Gubbio hug.  I haven’t seen Michael in well over a year. I happily shared that I had been working at The Gubbio Project for almost a year.  And once again, Michael left me speechless.  He told me he use to sleep at Gubbio in the pews of St. Boniface church.

I knew Michael was a former university professor, who lost everything with a crack pipe in his hands.  But the Michael I know bears no resemblance to the stereotypical image so many of us hold of a crack addict.  I never knew that Michael.  The man I know fills my heart with wonder and joy and a belief that the most hopeless among us can find redemption and healing, myself included.

Michael, I love you for bearing witness to my journey and sharing yours with me.  Be Blessed Always.