By Deacon John Degano
We are collectors of stuff, aren’t we?
We buy things on sale when we don’t really need them. We find things and bring them home thinking that someday we’ll put them to good use only to discover years later that we still haven’t moved them from that temporary storage place where we put them for safe keeping.
If we’re not careful, we run out of room in our house and then have to rent a storage space just for the overflow.
It’s the American way…
Many years ago Cheryl and I were picking up a supply priest visiting from India at Ontario Airport and as we returned by freeway to St. Catherine he observed several storage facilities and asked what they were for.
“You see, Fr. Vincent,” we began, “when people have too much stuff they rent a space to store it ...”
“Oh, so they go there every day and get what they need?”
“Well, no ... not exactly.”
We had just witnessed a clash of East-West cultures.
The American lifestyle, with its over-consumption (bordering on hoarding) ... vs. the (east) Indian way, of extreme poverty and limited access to even the basic needs that we sometimes take for granted.
Fr. Vincent served in our parish for two summers while working on his doctorate in Rome, Italy.
We introduced him to our young adults and frequented local restaurants like Denny’s and IHOP (which he nicknamed the International House of Priests) or the buffet lunch at the Indian restaurant by the airport.
When he returned to India at the end of his visit, he would no longer be the rector of the seminary there but rather his bishop would put him in a rural parish where his opportunity for travel would be seriously curtailed.
And so, with that knowledge we endeavored to make sure his time here was well spent.
One day, after morning mass, Fr. Vincent asked what ‘Vegas weddings’ were (he’d heard the term in the confessional)?
Ricardo, a seminarian, Cheryl and I all agreed that seeing Vegas was worth a thousand words… and so we planned a mid-week trip to fabulous Las Vegas!
Cheryl (the smart one of the bunch) remained behind (claiming that pesky job thing) while the rest of us (a priest a seminarian and a future permanent deacon) sped off across the desert on what became a whirlwind tour of Las Vegas and environs, including a stop at Ethel M’s chocolate factory tour/botanical gardens, and Ocean Spray Cranberry World-West (now closed).
Then, as the sun set and the lights of the city came to life, we drove down the iconic Strip to Union Plaza and the much touted “Freemont Experience.”
With the lightshow ending, I suggested we go try our luck inside one of the nearby casinos… but soon discovered another culture clash. Neither Fr. Vincent nor Ricardo had brought any discretionary money with them (for food, a room for sleep nor to gamble with, etc.) Nada.. As I stood there mouth agape, cash burning a hole in my pocket, I realized that Jesus was right.
“My (God’s) ways are not your ways ...”
Who, I thought, goes to Las Vegas without money?
Then my heart sunk even lower.
Fr. Vincent had seen enough and was ready to head home.
Ricardo agreed. He was saving his money and was already dreaming about the drive he would make alone to Colorado in a couple of weeks…
Apparently, I, the only one who had actually rescheduled his life in order to make this doomed excursion, was going to leave Vegas, having spent less than a dollar on slot machine action.
Who would believe such a tale?
Since it was a long drive home, we stopped to eat at the New York, New York Casino (what was then the newest casino). This was nothing like the cramped parlors we’d seen downtown. It was huge, open and even had a park-like setting inside (Las Vegas it seems was having its own culture clash, as well!)…
I called Cheryl to let her know we were on our way and I crawled into bed at 2:30 a.m., ending this 12-hour marathon exchange of cultures. We had survived, and forged a wonderful friendship between us.
And, if that wasn’t enough, I was also gifted with an incredible story to add to my collection of memories; to dust off occasionally; and to share with others struggling to understand why things oft go awry.
John De Gano is a deacon serving at St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish in Riverside.