|Zach on the End-of-Year Retreat|
What sort of deeds would deem a 300 lb, 6'3", African American man worthy of receiving such an angelic name as Sweetheart? A warm smile? Words of praise and encouragement? Generosity? The truth is, absolutely none of these things. Markus* is probably the least likely human being on the planet to receive such a name...on the surface. My first few encounters with the man had me second guessing what exactly I had gotten myself into. Some of the more notable early encounters with the colossal "angel" involved his weekly shower at the Marquard Center, of which I was responsible for supervising. He would frequently demand to be at the end of the list for showers so he had ample time to pamper himself and complain about a myriad of problems that were completely out of my control. Out of the 15 minutes normally allotted for men's showers, Markus would frequently take closer to 30 minutes to finish his business and make my life a (temporary) living hell. As a result of Sweetheart's exquisite taste in food, my efforts in the kitchen would frequently be inadequate for his VIP taste buds. My salads were inedible "rabbit food", my stewed apples were an eyesore, and my Italian Beef was dryer than the Sahara. Just in case I still didn't get the picture, Markus would always be there to give me helpful tips for improvement like "cook the food next time!" or "I don't eat apples, and I don't eat rabbit food." Sometimes I felt as if I was cooking for Gordon Ramsay, or King Henry VIII.
|Emily, Sara, & Zach at the Hunger Walk|
SLOWLY (I emphasize this word because glaciers could probably move faster) but surely, my relationship with Markus progressed. As his sense of entitlement continued, I began to joke with him about being a princess for asking to receive special treatment on par with Princess Diana. I noticed that this began to entertain him, at least more than my meals did. Eventually there came a point where I had endured so much of his criticism, all I could do it laugh. Unfortunately, the quality of resources we have at the Marquard Center is not quite up to a 5 star Michelin restaurant. This became a comical topic of conversation between this sweet man and I. Our conversations ranged anywhere from sports, to the tangled web of politics that makes up the governing body of Chicago, to commentary on my relationship with "Miss E" (my girlfriend). I really began to look forward to these interactions and by now I have realized that I have learned a wealth of information from him that I could not have ever received in college or traditional education. Because of Sweetheart, I have seen a vast improvement in my "street smarts." This is a kind of intelligence that I could not have received in my traditional suburban Illinois background. Everyone I had ever been surrounded with in my life was from a similar background, and it was not until this experience that I've realized how sheltered I have been my entire life. Markus is definitely partially responsible for this revelation, however, so are all of the guests that I have had the privilege of working with this year. As a result of Markus' unconventional way of showing affection, I have learned that his nickname may not be entirely ironic.