I conducted this interview with Ed on Friday, April 8th, 2016. He lives at the Quarterpath Inn in Williamsburg. This interview was conducted as part of the homelessness awareness week that we were putting on with Greater City. Brian Jenkins, the founder of GC, was with me at the interview and asked some great questions, too.
As a personal reflection, I thought it was interesting how he didn’t talk about his living arrangements but just loosely alluded to them as financial difficulties. Also, I just really cherished how much he seemed to value this interview. He got super dressed up and was low key super excited to do this, despite being a little hesitant about talking to a stranger. Having Brian there really helped because he opened up a lot more.
Do you have a best friend?
A lot of people.
In my family, they’re all my best friends, because they mean so much to me. To tell you the truth, I’m a humanist, and I don’t believe in best friends because we all share life. I don’t believe in categories, I think that degrades people. It’s like what drives me crazy is people go around saying, I’m this race or this race when in truth there’s only one race: the human race. It kind of drives me crazy when people say, “I’m part of the Irish race or Polish race,” or whatever…You’re a human being! You’re a part of the human race!
Why do you think you feel that way?
Actually, I think it was more my father than anybody. My father was an amazing person, and so was my mother. I think I get my positive attitude from my mother. My father was a person that had no prejudice whatsoever. He did not discriminate against anyone. He always told me that you judge people by what is on their mind and in their hearts. And that’s what I do.
Well I found out, that you never stop learning. Each person you meet you learn something from them. And that’s why I came up with this personal motto: “everybody’s my friend until they prove otherwise.” I learn something from him, I learn something from you, you learn something from me.
How long have you been living in Williamsburg?
Going on 16 years.
I’m always curious, how do Williamsburg residents see William & Mary students?
It runs the gamut. There are some that see you guys as snobs, some see you as great people, and some are in between. It’s not like the Naval Academy where you get two types of people. Here, it’s the full range.
That’s very interesting.
Which I think is the right way of doing it.
This goes way back, because I’m old. But in one of my psych courses, there was a class on the middle child. And I’m a middle child. Now, the middle child is an extremely observant person and we have above average listening skills. And trust me, being caught between two brilliant siblings, listening was my only way of surviving. So, I observed and I listened. So yeah you’re going to have people who think you guys are great, some who think you guys are lousy, and some who fall in between. For me, I think you guys are great, so far.
Brian: I just see you as a really strong person, so maybe you could tell us a little bit about what it means to be a strong person? Or a story about a challenge you’ve faced?
First of all you have to realize that a weak person or a fearful person…well first I should say that fear is only the absence of knowledge. And if you gain the knowledge you lose the fear.
When my inheritance caught up with me, I simply went in and told the doctor, “tell it to me straight.” He gave it to me straight. And my fear was gone. When I was growing up, I just simply observed my adversary and found out that they were more bluster than bully. So, I just simply walked up and looked him in the eye, let them say what they wanted to say, and when it was over and done with, I went on my way. I think the last time I actually had a physical fight was when I was 18. I was taught by my father that the greatest gift and weapon that our blessed Lord gave us was our mind and heart. And it’s proven to be true. Being strong, I don’t believe it’s physical. I believe it’s mental and spiritual.
It sounds to me like you’re a scholar, that you like to study things. Is it safe to say that you derive a lot of mental strength from that?
I overheard my father once tell a very close friend of his that his middle child had his open mind, which is a curious child. Which means that if I’m curious about something I am going to seek out the answer. I have an open heart, which is a giving heart. And trust me, I’ve gone broke a couple of times with that. If I get curious about something I’m going to finance it. But then somebody invented the internet and I do a heck of a lot of research.
So you mentioned mental strength and spiritual strength. Where do you think you get your spiritual strength?
I believe I get it from my father’s side. My father was assigned to Maryland and was waiting for a house so we stayed at my grandmother’s. For some odd reason she would wake me up every morning to go to Saint Rita’s 6 o’clock mass. My father, my grandmother, and my aunt had to be my greatest influences on my Catholic foundation. My father once told me that everybody travels their own Damascus road. The only thing I wish my father would have told me is that mine was a complete circle. When you complete your Damascus road, you will find your parish home and your parish family. And I did. Because St. Bede’s is absolutely wonderful. The Parrish family at St. Bede’s is wonderful.
How do they support you?
Through love. Through hope. And joy, forgiveness, mercy, and peace. In other words, the blessings of the Cross.
So it sounded like it started with building that foundation with your family when you were young, and now you say you’ve got this family here.
Well, trust me, the Damascus road was not fun.
Why not? What was along the road?
I would rather not say.
Growing up… there were stumbles. My father always taught us that anyone who believes in the trinity is your brother and sister in Christ. And the way my father explained it was that the cross that Christ was crucified on was made out of wood, wood comes from a tree, a tree has branches, and each branch is a Christian denomination, so we’re all connected. So all Christians are my brothers and sisters. Now we just need to get closer together. The amazing thing is what John Paul II and St. Francis are doing right now. They’re bridging the gap of the great schism. The Coptic church, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church. I believe what Pope Francis is doing is trying to bring them together as an example to the Christian community that, ‘if we can do this, all of us can do this’. And I think that if we can do this, then the world’s going to be a better place to be.
If you had a room with a listening audience, what would you tell them?
First of all, I don’t like speeches. I prefer dialogues and debates. A speech you learn from one person. In a debate or dialogue, you learn from each other.
If you could communicate something through your writing, then, what would you want to share?
To think for yourself. That you have your own mind, an independent spirit. That between the two you can work well and do great things if you want. That’s the main thing. The other thing is that that spirit comes from above. The other thing that I would want people to realize is that our society, the group mentality – it’s a bunch of bunkus.
Ok, Ed, this is kind of a random question but I always like to ask people what they wanted to be when they grew up?
Believe it or not, I just wanted to be whatever God wanted me to be.
Have you felt like he’s wanted you to be one thing or another? Have you felt particularly called in any way?
No. I know he gave me the talent to entertain. I know he gave me the talent to write….To care. But you know, life’s not over. It’s an amazing adventure.
I surprised somebody once. One of the drawbacks of having this inheritance, was that I had an incident where I had a stroke, seizure, and a heart attack.
All at once?!
Yep. The doctor came in and said, “How are you doing,” and I told him, “Okay.” And he just stared at me and said, “You almost died.” And I told him, “Death is only part of the journey.” He goes, “What is the end of the journey?” I said, “Heaven.”
When you refer to an inheritance, what do you mean?
My health problems are the same ones that my grandfather had, that his father had, and his father had, etc., And it’s a lot better than calling it anything else – so I claim it as my inheritance!
What have you learned from that?
That when faced with a challenge, you face it. You take it on. And you don’t let it stop you. You don’t let it slow you down because if you do, you’re cheating yourself out of a part of life. And I’m not about to let it.