Case V: Chapter 2: A Visit to The Plaza in Old Town

Chapter 2: A Visit to The Plaza in Old Town

One afternoon, Mrs. Branch and her friend Martha Arthur were shopping in the Old Town section of Albuquerque with Martha’s niece Denise. It was a pleasant afternoon and they decided to stop in the Plaza square and rest for a while. Mrs. Branch noticed a young man standing in the corner of the square with a small crowd gathered around him. It was a mixed group, consisting of young and old, smartly and poorly dressed, some who looked like lawyers from their offices on Lomas as well as a few obvious tourists. As they got up from their bench to continue shopping, they walked past the gathering and realized that the young man was talking about the environment and how people were destroying the beauty of God’s creation. Mrs. Branch turned to Martha and her niece and said, “This is the kind of message that I think the residents of La Vida Aureo need to hear, not all of that guilt-ridden Spanish Catholicism. This young man has the right perspective of in terms of honoring nature as God’s creation.”

Martha’s niece said, “Mrs. Branch, I would be a bit more careful if I were you. This man seems to be just a crazy druggie whose real goal is to panhandle for money. I work here in town and come to the plaza often to have my lunch and enjoy the beauty of this place. All too often, there is some crazy person standing around trying to get people to give him money. I don’t think this man is much different from those people at the highway intersections with those signs claiming they are homeless or some other excuse to shame people into giving the money.”

“No, Denise, you are wrong. This man sounds sincere. He just needs a shave and a haircut, and probably a good hot bath. I don’t think he’s crazy or on drugs. He just seems to be totally caught up in the importance and passion of what he’s saying. I think it would be appropriate for him to come and talk to some of the ladies at La Vida Aureo. Yes, I believe that’s what I will do.”

The three of them stood there for a while listening to the young man talk. His message was relatively simple and his delivery was measured and without any hysterics. His basic theme was that God had given Man dominion over the earth and had entrusted him with its preservation and care. But Man had been tempted by Satan to distort this charge of dominion to mean that Man must control Nature and force it to do his bidding. This approach seemed to work for a long time, but now Nature was fighting back. “God will ultimately prevail in this struggle, the young man said, and Man will be once again sent out from God’s presence, just like in Eden.”

These words affected Millicent Branch deeply as she stood there listening. She knew that Man had tried to control uranium and bend it to his will, but did not fully appreciate its powerful and harmful side effects. In his greed, Man had been punished by the cancers that had killed so many. She believed that there were many other similar instances and that this young man was simply trying to increase people’s awareness to the dangers of trying to act like God and exert too much control over nature. She was more convinced than ever that she should meet this young man and learn more about him and his message. Because, underneath everything, Millicent Branch was a pragmatic person and she needed to assure herself that this young man actually had some constructive thoughts. She was not interested in supporting anyone who just talked about problems without having some practical solutions to address the key issues. The only way she knew to do this was to have a serious one-on-one conversation with him. Millicent turned to Denise and said, “Please take your aunt back to La Vida Aureo. I’m going to have a little chat with this young man. I’ll get a cab when I’m finished. “

“Mrs. Branch, I really don’t think that’s such a good idea. You don’t know anything about him and it could be dangerous. “

“Nonsense, Denise. I’ll be fine. I intend to have my discussion with him right here in the middle of the Plaza.   There are lots of people around and I promise not to stay too long.”

Millicent Branch walked up to the young man when he finished speaking and the crowd was dispersing. She waited until the last of the tourists finished taking pictures and spoke directly to him. “Young man, my name is Millicent Branch and I am interested in what you have to say. Tell me your name and describe your basic message in just a few words.”

He was somewhat surprised by her directness. Most people simply saw him as a curiosity and just wanted to have their picture taken with him. “I’m sorry. What did you ask me?”

“I want to understand your message. If you can’t describe it to me succinctly, then you probably haven’t thought it through or just don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Wow! OK, lady. I am called The Steward and I believe that Man should use the power of his intellect and technology to be responsible stewards of the gifts of nature that God has blessed us with rather than using them to destroy.”

“I asked you what your name was, not what people call you. If you cannot answer a direct question, we have nothing further to discuss.”

“My name is Stuart and people who follow me began calling me The Steward because of my message.”

“OK, Stuart, that’s a start. I assume you have some practical examples of exactly how Man could go about using these skills to be a responsible steward or are you just about a bunch of pie-in-the-sky platitudes? ”

“I most certainly do. I’ve given this matter considerable thought over the years and believe I can describe specific actions that could be taken immediately.”

“I did not hear all of your speech today, but it sounds as though you are sincere and not some tree-hugging crackpot. I will want to talk to you in much more detail in the very near future. Would you consider talking to an interested group of people in my community?

“Most certainly. I would welcome the opportunity. I believe if more people hear my message, the chance for positive change increases.”

“That is all I need to know for now. How can I get in contact with you?”

“I usually come here to The Plaza every Wednesday to catch the lunch crowd and that is also a pretty good time for tourists as well.”

“I’ll be in touch.” Millicent turned away and began walking the short distance north on Rio Grande Boulevard to catch a taxi at the Hotel Albuquerque to return to La Vida Aureo.

Stuart Montgomery was still slightly confused by this elderly woman as he packed up his papers into a well-worn canvas backpack and began to walk slowly in the other direction. As he approached an old VW van, the woman driver was having a heated conversation with two young girls in the back seat. “You’ll just have to do better, she complained. All you got today was some cheap jewelry, a watch and some cash. You’re not trying hard enough.”

“We had to be careful, one of the girls whined. There was a bicycle-riding cop who kept circling the crowd and looking at us. And, it was a small crowd today, mostly locals. Anyway, we did better than yesterday when we were standing on the frickin’ side of the road trying to look pregnant and homeless.”

“Fine. Can it. Here comes The Steward and he will be displeased to hear your complaining.”

Stuart settled into the van’s passenger seat as Rosalie Ribera drove away. She successfully navigated the entrance onto Interstate 40 heading east toward the Big I where she turned north on I-25. Rosalie turned to Stuart and asked, “Well, who was that old biddy you were talking to and what did she want?”

“I’m not completely sure. She said she was interested in what I had to say about the environment and my philosophy of stewardship. She also mentioned something about talking to some people in her community.”

Rosalie thought to herself that this could be an interesting opportunity if it were handled correctly. But, she needed time to think through the details of how to proceed. “That is interesting and could be a benefit to your ministry, Steward. We can discuss it more fully this evening.”

By the time Mrs. Branch arrived at La Vida Aureo, she had formulated a basic plan of action. She would convince Isabella, as Executive Director, to allow this young man to come and talk to any interested residents on a regular basis. She also realized that she would have to coach this Steward fellow about the details of his message. She agreed with the notion of protecting the environment through responsible stewardship, but wanted to avoid too much of that New Age nonsense common in parts of New Mexico. She would insist that his message also include examples of Jesus’ teachings and how they applied to daily life. If that didn’t get enough people’s attention, she would encourage Stewart to incorporate some good old-fashioned Old Testament Fire and Brimstone-type warnings about making God angry by ruining His creations. If he could incorporate these references, it would be viewed as semi-religious and relatively non-denominational. Her goal wasn’t to push any particular Protestant theology, just to counteract the growing emphasis of culture and religion surrounding Señora Barela. As she headed for Isabella’s office, she mused to herself, “I’ve always been a Protestant. I just never knew what I was protesting. Now I know!”

Millicent Branch was able to convince Isabella Duncan that bringing Stuart Montgomery to La Vida Aureo to speak would be a harmless activity. Millicent described Stuart as a young man who spoke primarily of nature and it would be an uplifting experience for many of the residents. In Isabella’s desire to placate Millicent, she agreed to a trial run with this speaker. “Let’s see how it goes and how many residents are interested in what he has to say. After he speaks here a few times, we can talk again about whether this is a good idea or not. I hope that is acceptable with you, Mrs. Branch.”

“That is just fine, Ms. Duncan. I’m sure everything will be just fine.”


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