Getting to Know You: Joel Greenberg

a column dedicated to the folks in the pews

Written by Dale Buchanan

Joel was born and grew up in Los Angeles. He came to Fresno to finish his education and after graduation was a social worker specializing in counseling for forty years.

“What motivated you to make this your career?” I asked. Joel replied, “I have always liked people and been extremely interested in what makes them tick.” My next question was, “Joel, have you, in your search for what makes us tick, found a common denominator that explains why we all act like we do?”  His answer was, “It seems to me a two-part answer. One, we are human, and two, we are each and every one of us distinct and unique individuals.” 

I talked for two hours with this venerable gentleman. My questions kept coming and with each answer I had another question which was patiently and thoughtfully answered. My notes flowed onto the paper—page after page of rich insights into this sweet and gentle man who has quietly occupied a pew at Big Red for decades.

Did I mention that Joel is a gifted poet? Joel’s poetry reflects a darkness when it speaks of his childhood. At a very young age Joel’s father died of cancer. Without a trace of bitterness or hate, he looked me in the eye and said, “My mother suffered a nervous breakdown and stopped wanting to be my mother. When I was eight years old my twin brothers and I were locked up for three years in a camp where we were abused in every imaginable way from beatings to verbal abuse and deprivation.”

“Joel, how did you survive all of this?” “I was crazy at first,” Joel replied. “Therapy helped and when I am blue Linda comforts me.”

Linda was raised by
good enough parents and family:
I learned to walk on
my knees as a child
in hollow loneliness

(from “Simple Things”)

And this profound description of aging:

Cheeks and foreheads furrowed
in wrinkles,
thinning hair, grey beard, yellow teeth,
arms not strong enough to lift
grocery bags or scrub floors. . .
The young dance with possibilities. . .
We elders are walking libraries. . .

(from “All in All”)

This poem speaks of all of our inner struggles to achieve:

I'm dried out; my poems
are fallen crisp leaves drained of
sap. . .
The green fuse that drives
the flower ushers our creativity.
We are tender red roses bathed
in petals of sunlight and fog. . .
Stop this self-serving complaining. . .

(from “The Blessing to Time”)

Joel met his wife Linda for piano lessons. It took about a year for lessons to blossom into love. He confided that he only learned to play a little. The love has lasted a life time.

Dale Buchanan is a member of FCCF with a passion for stories and writing. In between penning his own memoirs, he is helping us get to know our members, one pew at a time. 

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