God, Jumanji, and a Buick Skyhawk

Toby Van Buren, one of the first contributers to KtB’s revival in 2008, is recovering from a stroke in a New York hospital. Until late October, he’d been using his daily 30-minute allowance of internet time at an Apple Store on Broadway to email all manner of unpublished writing—from film reviews to an op-ed rant against New York’s plan to gas 170,000 Canadian geese. He was working on a memoir of his five years being homeless, after losing his World-Trade-Center job. Here’s an excerpt from “My Skyhawk Guardian Angel,” his contribution to KtB:

I started out living at the Yonkers Cross Country Center through Christmas; then, driving out to Commack, Long Island, Truck Rest Stop, exit 52.

Imagine spending Christmas Day living in a car — and Christmas Eve! But it really wasn’t so bad. I got up early Christmas morning, the only one parked at the Yonkers Cross Country Center Cinema parking lot. A man was jogging with his dog – I’d beckoned him to stop by, which he did. It was a sunny day, the sparkling remains of snow from a storm. I told him what had happened to me. He said, “God loves you.”

The day went well despite no gift exchange — though maybe the kind one does not see — a lovely relationship with God! I’d eaten, seen Jumanji with Robin Williams, a good movie for me at the time — elephants running through a house.

Since the stroke, Toby’s writing has become increasingly incoherent, and his mass email dispatches stopped when he was hospitalized three weeks ago. Fellow members of an arts group are collecting get-well cards and messages for Toby. Though you may not know him, I imagine his writing pricks many a KtB reader. And he’d be glad to hear it from you. Please write ashley@killingthebuddha.com if you’re interested in sending a card or message his way.

Ashley Makar works with refugees in Connecticut. She does community outreach for IRIS--Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, in New Haven. She has an e-book of essays, You Were Strangers: Dispatches from Exile. Ashley has published essays in Tablet, The Birmingham News, The Struggle Continues (the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute weblog), Religion Dispatches, and The New Haven Register.