was in the middle of my famous soliloquy. The Neurologist had come by for his daily pay. He did not know and was surprised that I was being released. This was the same man who apologized for ordering a test I already had. But the Neurologist ever useful decided he would go with the flow. He started with a very sympathetic tone as he remarked,’ Well you can go home now to retire and fish and do those things you have always wanted to do. You are lucky.” Something deep inside of me was stirred with his words of ‘compassion’.
I held up my claw of my hand that looked as though I held the skull of Yorick in it. And said I cannot drive or fish with my arm and hand like this. And I relaxed and spoke very slowly, strongly, and firmly so he could understand. My words were delivered as a Shakespearean actor. These are the words as I choose to remember them. My neurologist may disagree. (My apology to Shakespeare)
“Alas, poor Doctor! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how
abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rims at
"To sue, or not to sue: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?"
Something is rotten in Candler. Though this be madness there is no method in it. There are more things in heaven and earth that are dreamt of in your doctoring. “What a piece of work is a doctor! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the
world! The paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is
this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me; no,
nor Woman neither; though by your smiling you seem
to think so..”
“Oh, my offence is rank, it smells to heave. I must be cruel only to be kind; thus bad begins, and worse remains behind.”
I concluded with, ’Brevity is the soul of wit.” Since I knew that Shakespeare may be beyond the grasp of his knowledge, I concluded my next action would be up to him.’ The ball is in your court.’
Thirty minutes later a back scan was ordered. The doctor came back after the test and said,’ He was sorry.’ I was staying overnight. He continued, ‘I had not noticed the swelling in your neck. They have found lesions on your spine.’ It was hard to feel triumphant.
Stay tune as my medical trials continued.
Some of you may not know that I have recently been under advanced medical trials. The following is an account of these trials. I was not having a good day and my body did not feel right. I struggled to do my regular routine throughout the day. I was not that alarm because since cancer I do have bad days, but this felt different. That night I did the unforgiveable and skipped book club. I knew the book club would put the bookworm of destruction on me. The destruction took affect that night as it wormed its way unto my shoulder and down my right arm. I woke up the next morning with pain and numbness in my right arm.
I decided to go to the Saturday immediate med care my insurance plan offered. After forcing me to smile, touch my nose with my index finger and other advanced medical technology she (the doctor) said, 'I did not look as though I had had a stroke but to confirm this I would need the nonadvanced technology of machines that look inside of you.' She suggested I go to the emergency room. I looked at her with do you know what you are saying eyes. The ER would be hours of waiting in a too small room filled with sick people. This is your cure? Plus this was in the age of Covid-19 this could risk my very life. 'I know,' she said looking at me, 'but you need to be sure that this has nothing to do with something in your back. You need a MRI and you need it today. Because if it is your back the longer it is not dealt with the worse it will be.'
After returning home and talking with my wife it was decided rather quickly by my wife that I should go but she should not be exposed to the potential virus and she would not wait with me. Besides a day without me might be pleasant ‘so go’ the time alone might do me good. Months afterwards I have concluded the me in the latter sentence was not me but her. So off to the ER I went.
I told every medical professional in the ER my doctor said I should come to the ER to receive a MRI. They all nodded their heads and proceeded to make me touch my nose and smile. I was beginning to think that the smiling was how they delivered a service with a smile: they used mine. I saw two doctors and did similar exercises for both and waited patiently for a MRI. Now a MRI is not something you would be jonesing for like painkillers, but they did not give me one. They sent me home six hours later saying if it does not get better see a doctor.
I went home but the next morning I no longer had any feeling in my arm and my hand was useless. I was not going back to the ER. I decided to use the Teledoc with my insurance company. There is nothing more reassuring than having a doctor with a foreign accent and located in a place where it was anyone's guess make you do the same exercises everyone else had. My smile was definitely forced by now. His words to me was I needed to go back to the emergency room to have an MRI on my back before it was too late. I once again questioned him. He said he knew I must be forceful and demand it. My wife assured me she would be fine at home.
So, it was to the ER I marched armed with two doctors and one ER declaring I did not have a stroke and needed an MRI on my back. I have advocated for my friends and clients in the past bringing nurses to tears and doctors to heel. I was certain I could get an MRI for myself.
Apparently, the MRI techs were a more intimidating lot than me. I would later learn in the middle of the night the doctors were too terrorized to call the tech to come in. They were on call during the weekends and only were available during business hours. A doctor promised if I stayed the night, first thing in the morning they would give me a MRI.
Since I had asked for a test, they proceeded to give me every test evented in the evil hearts of medical engineers: two ultrasounds, CAT screens of my brain, two ultrasounds of my neck and shoulder, X-rays of my neck and shoulder. In fact, they were so gung-ho twice I had to tell them I had already received the test they wanted to do. They even asked me to smile for them. It was difficult now to smile. And as for touching my nose let us say I was a bit touchy about it. But the one thing they did not do was an MRI on my back.
When the neurologist came I felt at last I would receive my MRI. He said we are checking for stroke. Again, I stated to him I needed imaging for my back and that was why I was there. I emphatically emphasized my urgent care and Teladoc had said such and even your ER had released me just yesterday saying they found no evidence of a stroke. When I told the neurologist this, he asked me if either doc was a neurologist. I said I did not think so. He shrugged his shoulders as if to say I do not care what they have to say. I thought these guys were priceless, no really I mean there was no price they were not willing to add to my medical bill.
The weekend and Monday were gone and it was Tuesday morning. My pontificating ‘stroke’ doc who had ordered the multiple tests he wanted and none my original doctors had said I needed, came by. I guess to keep charging me. He assured me things would be fine. I had no feeling in my hand and was no better. He stated he was ready to discharge me. With a sweet smile he said, ‘I should be glad they have eliminated without any doubt stroke was the reason I was having problems.’ This did not bring happiness or a smile to my face although I was thinking about touching his nose with my fist but then again, I could not lift my arm to do such.
He left the room. I was beginning to stroke out. In fact, I think that was their plan. We may not be able to find any evidence of a stroke but if we cause him to have one, we could say ‘just as we thought you are having a stroke. Good thing you are here in the hospital we know how to handle a stroke.’
Stay tuned for the next blog of my medical trials to see if indeed I will receive my MRI.
My wife and I are liberal, and on some things, probably even radical. We grew up in the world of conservatism and can appreciate civil, socially liberal conservatives. But we resent the stereotypes that the Limbaugh’s and other ultra conservatives want to label people like us. I find the ideal of white heterosexual males calling liberals snowflakes nothing more than projection. They are the most whiney bunch I know. I consider the snowflake accusation a ‘remove the beam from your own eye before you talk about the speck in mine’ charge. The other charge that is quite often thrown at liberals are they are consumed by white guilt. Now one could make a strong argument that this would be a natural consequence of our treatment of Native Americans, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, in our country and our historical treatment of other countries such as the Philippines, Cuba, China, Mexico and Puerto Rico to name a few. But we feel quite certain we do not feel any unnecessary guilt as the far right has come accustomed to saying about our ilk.
That was until the incident known as the Great Laundry Lint Controversy of 2019. Did you know that they found plastic in the Arctic. I found this horrifying. But I also wanted to know how this happened. It turns out many scientists say this in large part may be washer and dryer lint. Apparently, because we are not emptying and disposing of our washer and dryer lint filters appropriately the lint washes out into the water systems and eventually ends in the Arctic sometimes.
We were both unaware that the washing machine had a lint filter. I was bemused that I did not know this. My wife said she too was unaware of this. We pledged, as good environmentalist, to do our due diligence to be sure we addressed the washer filter issue, to do our part in preserving the Arctic. We were not ashamed to admit our ignorance but now that we were wiser we would do the right thing. We were so proud of ourselves.
Then it suddenly dawned on me I had not changed the dryer filter in forever. I asked Chris if she had. To which she exclaimed NO! Now we were alarmed. She was at first worried that the dryer was about to overheat and explode. I was ashamed that somehow I had not addressed this issue. What kind of global citizen was I? We compost, recycle, solar dry, eat vegetarian, use things until they die, shop locally, etc. We try not to leave any stone unturned when it comes to saving the environment. And now I realized this was nothing more than a humble brag. We were failing to live up to our lofty ambitions. Of course, we were guilty of other environmental transgressions such as we do not bike or use public transportation enough. But how dare we not empty and dispose of dryer lint appropriately. This would be so simple. We had failed. We would be held guilty in the environmental justice court for gross negligence. As my wife and I shook and lowered our heads in shame, I suddenly achieved enlightenment on the issue. I looked at my wife with a stupid grin and a little relief and said, ’Honey I am just now remembering we do not own a dryer.’ We both looked at each other as we realized all the shame and guilt for the last few minutes were over a non-existent issue. We laughed and moved on quickly because there was nothing to see here.
So maybe liberals do have a little bit of an overblown guilt for things.
Harold was my friend. Not every person would I say this about that entered our doors at the HIV/AIDS home I was working. He came from a small town in South Carolina of less than five thousand people. The poverty ridden black community in the town were proud of him. He had a personality of unlimited wattage that made you love him. He was a proud Marine who had been in combat for our country and volunteered to do good things in his community. He was a former high school athletic and scholar stand-out. But he was also gay and had contracted AIDS.
The town was now talking about his sinful nature and were wary of the disease he carried within him. He felt disappointed in himself that he was now not the solution but in his view the problem. He was one of the black men with so much potential but for whatever reason had failed to carry the dreams of his community forward. At least that is how he pictured it in his mind’s eye when he went to his dark place.
He was different from the other residents because of his military posture and the can do it nature of Marines. But then there was his playful flirting nature that captured hearts. One of the things he did that was counter cultural to a lot of thinking about group homes was when returning from wherever he would come through the door with the words “Honey I’m Home”. Though he did it a thousand times his infectious smile and voice would always lift your spirits. He was the one flirting with everyone especially the ones who were bedridden.
He to the very end tried to keep fit. Which often confused people when he said he was HIV positive. Though he probably never knew it he was the hero of the house. But he was living before the discovery of the drugs that would make early death the inevitable result of AIDS. He became ill.
He would lay bedridden in his room. But this did not keep him down he kept his door open and when anyone who passed by, he would yell something about how fine they looked that day. He would yell through the wall at his neighbor bedridden housemate. He was always accusing her of having men in her room or ‘borrowing’ things from his room. She would smile and if he was not showing her enough attention bang on the wall so he would start his rancor with her. The two of them could barely move but they kept it up to the end.
He always held out hope for a cure which was bound to occur at any moment. I do not know if he really thought it was around the corner, but his talk gave hope to many that yes it was around the corner. Constantly, he talked about what he would do and where he would go when the cure came. But AIDS was relentless in those days. He became too sick for us to take care of him in the home and was hospitalized.
I visited him daily, but it was evident that his time was limited. But even when he would convey to me his disappointment and dark thoughts, he never gave in to them. He appeared to have an endless supply of optimism. He was determined not to die with hopelessness on his lips.
I was scheduled for a short vacation, but Harold was close to the end. I did not want to leave him but in those days if you waited until there was a break in the deaths you would probably never take time off. When I informed him I might be leaving town he laughed at my misgiving and said ‘if you stay you will make me think I am about to die. Why would you do that? He said I may act cocksure, but I do have my fears and do not want any unnecessary help with them.’ He continued I would not want your child to blame me for not enjoying swimming in the lake with his father that would be a horrible thing to take to the grave with you. ‘Besides I promise you I will not die unless I have you right by my side so I can be sure to have the last word in who will win the NBA championship.’
I knew it was all bullshit to make me feel comfortable with leaving but that was his nature. He would be mad and scared if I stayed. I went. The night before I returned; he died. There would never be ‘Honey I’m Home’ spoken in the house again. But these many years later he remains one of my heroes who have taken up home in my heart.
I think I lost a friend today. I did not see an obituary in the paper. We were so intimate at one time. We had eternal moments together and thought nothing could separate us but now apparently, they are gone. I did not see it coming and do not know why it occurred. But they are gone. I feel it.
They were here and now they are gone. I feel the lost. Memories are already fading. Memories are so feeble and anemic. But who needs them. We never remember people as they were only as we wish to remember them. And after a while of this misremembering are they even the same person.
I have asked people around me if they know of anyone I have lost. They only look at me with a strange look and say no. But who is this person I have lost and why do they linger inside of me. I think back to the different people in my life and identify if they are alive or dead. As I do that mixed feelings occur of this presence I once had. They say people do not remember what you say or did but how you made them feel. But my memory of whoever this is made me feel all the emotions. I feel detached from the memories but at the same time I feel every one of them.
I wonder if this memory has been replaced by another memory. Is that memory accurate or the former one? If I knew who they were I could ask a friend which is true. Maybe I am thinking of it too much. Some say if you let your mind rest and think of other things it will eventually come to you.
I remember an Italian restaurant I once patronized I had eggplant parmesan. The pleasure of the moment came flashing back to me but I could not put a face to it. I am feeling so many emotions over this person I have lost. My whole life seems to be blended with this person I have forget. They must have been important to me. Was it my mother or a partner? I cannot find the person in my head. It feels important that I remember. But no one around me seems capable of assisting with this problem.
Someone called out a name to me that jarred emotions and concern as if my being was saying do not forget me. Was that their name, Mr. Walcott? I find myself being wheeled down this familiar corridor. I must have been this way before. The assistant stops to open a door I know. I read the sign next to it Dr. Meeks, Alzheimer Specialist.
I was visiting one of the sister communities of Koinonia Farms where I was volunteering. It was Open Door (sadly it closed in 2018) in Atlanta. I was spending my time learning about how this inner-city community worked. At the time after working in an inner-city community as a Baptist minister for five and a half years, I had a certain All-American look and knew how to not be frightening to normal folk. I was having a good time and living as I had for those years in Louisville with the homeless again. Of course, it was different not being the person in charge. Which I found a comfort in.
I served meals to the homeless, help run the showers available to the homeless a few times a week, I attended worship services, and attended classes to educate volunteers about the homeless and community life. I was in my comfort zone. One of the things both the Open Door and Koinonia did was to work with and support another community, Jubilee Partners (they worked with refugees from around the world). They were all a part of what could be called the Overground Railroad that ran in the eighties to offer hospitality and resettlement for Central American refugees fleeing their governments. The catch was Central American refugees were forbidden by then President Reagan’s law to be in the United States. The hypocrisy of this was Reagan’s support of the hardline leaders in Central American made the country dangerous for the refugees. This was why many fled their countries in the first place.
There had been two gentlemen who had come from Jubilee Farms to stay overnight at the Open Door to fly out of Atlanta to the more friendly confines of Canada. Now the Open Door was to try to ‘smuggle’ these two men aboard the plane for Canada where refugee workers were ready to assist them in settling there. The problem was most if not all of the Open Door community members were known faces at the airport for helping refugees making flights out of the country. Reagan had ordered just this week a more stringent enforcement of his law. The community did not know what might await them at the airport. They were afraid of what would happen to the men if their very recognizable faces were seen there in defiance of the law. They needed a fresh face and idealistic young man who would not appear as a threat. Enter me.
I agreed to take the men. Not because I knew how to speak Spanish or knew my way around the airport. But it was something different. The church I ministered at in Louisville had hosted a couple of times refugees on their way to Canada via the Overground Railroad. At Koinonia I had participated with other members of the community to help survey migrant workers in the various farm fields around Sumter County where Koinonia was located. The surveys were to see how many migrant farmers there were in the area what were their needs and how they were being treated. That was my experience with migrants or refugees.
I was given a five minute ‘how to session’ on what to do and their flight numbers. My biggest worry was how to lead these two men who did not speak English through the biggest airport in America. An airport I had never been in. But early the next morning we were off. I was nervous and apprehensive but determined to help these men get on their plane and impress the Open Door partners. As we walked through the airport security guards seem to be everywhere.
The two men who had mainly been in the safe havens of Jubilee Partners and Open Door were very on edge (an international language I understood). We finally arrived at the airlines ticket and luggage desk. I waited in line as they stayed back. When it was my time I walked as confident as I could to the desk. She smiled and I smiled back. She looked over the ticket information. I was feeling confident until she gave me a quizzical look. You are not Jose are you. I explained he was over there and did not speak English and I was assisting him (this was pre 911). She said she needed to see their identification. I explained they did not have an American ID. Now her ears pricked up. I then proceeded with a letter from the embassy saying they had a special dispensation to fly to Canada. Now the letter was not actually legal but it sounded good. She then stated this was not a usual letter and she would have to call security*. I said that was not necessary but if that was needed go ahead.
I was now using all my charm and white man nonthreatening looks I had to assure her it was okay. It was not working. Now I was worried not so much for myself. I could always plea stupidity but not so much my travelers. I took on my most pious look and voice and said, ‘If the airline did not want mine or their business, I did not need to fly with them’. And with a good huff I turned around and left. I gathered the refugees quickly and trying to convey with my body total indignation at the situation walked away.
It seemed as if we passed hundreds of security guards as we made it back to the car. I drove back to the Open Door by around about route (kidding) not to be followed. I told my story they looked and smiled and asked if I was open to trying again tomorrow. I said warily yes. Afterall I was feeling like a failure.
The next day I learned they had called ex-President Jimmy Carter and he had arrangements to secure their flight for them. Carter was a ‘volunteer’ for Habitat for Humanity’ a program started by Koinonia and was apparently willing to work with the communes. They gave me one of Carter’s assistant’s phone number to use if I had any issues.
This time I walked through the airport as if I was on a mission from a President. I would not let anything stop me this time. I walked up to the desk brimming with confidence ready to take on the system. When they saw the names on their tickets they instantly rolled out the carpet. They had a Spanish speaker on site who interacted with the men and made sure everything was comfortable for them. They were on the plane lickety-split. I through my strong advocacy and force of personality had helped these men get to Canada. Or at least that was what I tell myself and others who were not there.
*If security experts notice something that might not be true of security in that era I apologize. It has been a few years. But the story is true otherwise.
Many years ago, I ran into inclusive language and wanted to have it become a part of my daily habitual discourse. Now that may sound easy but as I grew to accept new ways of being my language had to constantly change. But my first public endeavor began in a nursing home.
I was interning in a church’s nursing home program. They had over twenty seminary students interning with them at nursing homes across Louisville. I had been doing it for over a year when they asked me to mentor one of the newbies. He was a lot more conservative than I was. He was much more strait laced and handle himself as a very serious and intense minister. Despite our obvious differences we got along well.
Part of the job was to hold a worship service once a week. I would choose music and a liturgical form for the service. We would sing the ole time gospel songs and I would deliver a ten to fifteen minutes sermon. I loved the music time. Even residents who were not of sound mind, could sing the words of the hymns they had sang throughout their lives. Of course, they could not understand the sermon. I had two women who would often raise their hands and say Praise Jesus or Amen. There were a few others who were from less call and reply traditions who sat quietly but did understand. Out of the twenty plus residents who came seven or eight were aware.
I had recently had a discussion with some fellow wanna-be theologians about the use of inclusive language. The women theologians insisted on the need for justice in language. They were in the habit of counting others non-inclusive language. The discussion was heated and they were convincing me of the necessity of inclusive language. Suddenly one of the older seminarians said in the most prophetic voice, “That he always used the feminine pronoun for God. He would do this because he knew that it would take years of the use of the feminine pronoun for God to balance the scales of justice against the misogynist language that was used in the church for centuries.” Upon hearing this I watched the women theologians and maybe a male theologian swoon and thought one seminarian was getting laid tonight. I was convinced I was using inclusive language from that day forward.
I had a problem. I did not know how to incorporate inclusive language in the nursing home. Finally, Mother’s Day rolled around and I thought this was the perfect opportunity to introduce inclusive language to the nursing home. I thought to myself that half of them never knew what I was saying, my two ladies amen anything I said, and the others would probably not notice. The day rolled around to preach the sermon. I had alerted my mentee of what I was doing. He did not look like he was very supportive of the idea. But he had not seen the women theologians swoon.
The day of the sermon finally arrived. I had carefully chosen the hymns and scripture readings to be as inclusive as possible. At long last it was sermon time. I started off slowly talking about mothers and how special they were. And slowly made the transition to God as mother to all of us. I quickly realized that old habits died hard. God was a nurturer also. His breast gave us the milk of love. And several other times I said he only to quickly repeat myself using the pronoun she. God he/she or whatever I felt myself wanting to say in my frustration. It was by no ways a sermon to break ground on how to use inclusive language
I knew things were bad when my silent but there congregants would give me for the first time quizzical looks. You could tell they could not follow me. Hell, I could not follow me. My Praise Jesus women kept hoping I would say something they could praise but only looked on not sure how to praise such a disaster. I could tell my mentee was quietly laughing inside.
I finally came to a stop and thanked the Mother God for his many blessings he continues to give us. I was glad to be finished. Afterwards I went around the room and shook hands and hugged the people. Usually I would receive good words such as a ‘you preach as good as Billy Graham’. Today that praise did not come. I was only given ‘we still love you looks’ and hugs.
Finally, I left with my mentee. On the way to the car we usually talked about the service and how the people seemed to be getting along. But today he appeared to be following that great maxim ‘If you do not have anything good to say than say nothing. As we shook hands goodbye, I peered deeply into my mentee’s eyes said with a wry grin on my face but in the most sincere voice I could muster,” I need to warn you only professionals should attempt this and do not try this at home”
While I was a student at Samford University I volunteered to visit two shut-ins once a week. In some ways this would prove to be a challenge for my religious development even though I would form a relationship with each of my shut-ins. They lived in two senior high rises in downtown Birmingham.
I can remember knocking on the door of the apartment of each feeling much like I was on my first date. On my first visit it took a substantial amount of time before the door was answered. Finally, Mrs. Warner came to the door. I introduced myself and she directed me to her table where we would have many talks and I would pray with her each before I left. She would always have off brand cookies waiting for me and the television playing the Christian Broadcasting Network in the background.
We would talk about her physical pain caused by arthritis especially in her hands and because I was a fledging minister: religion. She was always quoting and referencing a television evangelist and healer who she was dedicated to. She gave monthly from her social security check a nice tithe to this evangelist and healer. If I was unfortunate and scheduled our time together at the same time her evangelist’s television show I would be ‘obliged’ to watch him with her. She often shared the mailings his ministry sent her. Usually letters asking for money. On a couple of occasions, she apologized for the lack of cookies. She would explain she had answered her evangelist’s call for more money.
She once asked me if I could heal her arthritic hands. I told her I did not have the gift of healing. She seemed a bit confused as to why I was entering the ministry if I could not heal. I had to remind her on several occasions that as a rule Southern Baptists did not believe in her evangelist’s kind of healing.
Usually after I visited Mrs. Warner I would drive to visit (Stella as she told me to call her): my other shut-in. When she opened the door the first words out of her mouth was ‘I love my Jesus’. She asked me if I did and would praise Jesus offering up prayers and scripture verses to the universe. She was more evangelical than I would ever be. Her voice was so sweet and melodious you would have thought you were at the Pearly Gates hearing the angels inside praising God.
I usually would stay for an hour with each shut-in at the first. But I stayed too long with Stella. After thirty minutes with her, Stella’s demeanor would have a transformation. Gone was the angel voice. Now her voice was lower and if I must be honest, scarier. She would start using nigger in her sentences and complain how they were taking over the city of Birmingham. I would steadily correct her and say I did not like the use of that word and try to challenge her complaints. She looked confused when I did not join in her habitual race damning. And on occasion when I would challenge her she would momentarily stop. But she could not help herself and would eventually backslide into her racist monologues. I can remember being very uncomfortable when her black caretaker was in the room and she would start carrying on with her racist talk. It was very challenging to visit her. Always the first few minutes would start about her love of Jesus and a few minutes later she would degenerate into her racist diatribe.
I knew or at least I hoped her mind was not working right. But in all other things she appeared to have her senses. I never knew if it was the disease of the mind or the disease of the heart. My visits with her became shorter and shorter. I was only staying for ten to fifteen minutes by the end of my visits. I hoped by cutting the time with her I would miss the racist talk and only hear the ‘godly’ talk.
One day when I visited Mrs. Warner she was excited. Her television evangelist was coming to the Birmingham Civic Center. Her aide was going to transport her and she was going to position herself on the front row. She was going to at last be cured of the crippling arthritis in her hands. I had never seen her in such a good mood. I was concerned that she would be disappointed but did not want to dampen her mood. When I left I told her I would be praying for her and she could tell me all about it at our next meeting.
When I returned the next week she was slow getting to the door. As I greeted her I could see she was depressed. Slowly she divulged the story to me. She did it in a hushed funeral home voice. She had wheeled herself (with the help of a nurse to a meeting of his) to the stage. Listened to his revival spirited sermon. As was his custom he began the part of the service where he picked ailing members to the stage. She waited for him to call her on stage to be healed. He stopped and looked at her as he went down the row choosing people. But to her dismay he did not direct her to line up on stage. She desperately asked one of his assistants why she was not chosen. The assistant explained she did not have a gold pin signifying a certain amount of money she had given. In other word give more money if you want to be healed.
After telling me her story, she dropped her head and I could see tears flow down her cheeks. She whispered to me I should have been giving more. She of limited income stated to me I must give more. I was angry this was not right. He was nothing but a huckster and knew nothing about Jesus. But I managed to kill my first instinct and told her that I did not believe that it is how God operates. She said he was a godly man and if that is what he said it was the gospel. I could see there was no arguing with her. I suddenly felt a huge black cloud come over me. There was nothing this man could do that would have her leave his ‘flock’. He would buy two jets, he would be accused of an affair, he would be questioned how he spent his money but she and others would still support him. They held to their faith dearly no matter how challenging it might come. Though she walked through the valley of the shadow of death without comfort she would remain loyal.
After two years of weekly visits with these two saints it was time for me to head to seminary in another city. I slowly had prepared them for this moment. The program in which I first volunteered to visit had been closed for months now. There would be nobody to come and replace me. I had mixed feelings about this. I partly felt guilty but also was a little relieved to not have the responsibility of visiting them once a week.
When I visited Stella one last next time she served me one last dose of her vitriolic racist diatribe. And before I left she prayed for me and my new home. Mrs. Warner was excited to present me with a gift. She had passed from her valley to a new mountain top in the last six months. Her evangelist was even more of a godly man than before. She brought me her gift. I opened it. It was a book entitled Six Steps to Excellence in MInistry by her evangelist. I smiled and thanked her for the book. Later as I was walking out the door for the final time I saw on her television her evangelist.
At first, I thought she must be an advanced droid. She was always flawless. Then I decided an angel fit better. Yet in the end she was human. This was evident as we decided if we would be huggers. We waited for signals from each other as to whether we should hug. In the end we hugged once or twice, shook hands a few times and other times we raised arms to hug but realized the other was not showing hug and we dropped hands as if we had had a seizure. Droids would do one way which ever they had been programmed and an angel would go for the hug every time. Yes, she was human no one could program such human indecision.
But Kasey was a good human. She was the social worker/nurse you can only dream. I was seated in a chair waiting in line and suddenly there her face appeared in the rectangular window of the fire escape motioning for me to open it. And that was how she was. You needed help and intuitively she would appear even via a stairway no one used. Signing in for my next radiation treatment after I finished there she was. How she arrived there without me hearing her is puzzling. Did she beam herself there. She was the first social worker who never wasn’t. She always did what she promised when she promised.
I was there before the place was open and was waiting in the hall. Suddenly rushing thru the never used exit door at the back of the center she came crashing. She saw me smiled and said she would see me after my radiation treatment. I told Dr. Pablo I needed to discuss something with her and he said let me get her for you. In less than ten seconds Pablo came in with the smile of the cat who swallowed the canary. Behind him was Kasey. “Pretty impressive service hunh.” This uncanny way of being every where gave her a certain mystique.
She is probably the best listener to whines. I know she broke the limits of whine listening with me. Not once did she make it look like she could bear no more. She must have had a Big Ben methodology of listening to whines. But not only did she listen to the whines she offered solutions and suggestions. I feel your pain Mr. Freeman. Her follow through would make Stephon Curry jealous.
She once told me I wish I could take a magic wand and make it all disappear, but I can’t. I looked at her and said really you can do everything else. I told her she is the wand because you make it easier.
I have finished chemo and radiation and now will wait three months before the final verdict is declared. I have confidence it will be okay. And if it isn’t I have a magic wand to make it easier.
I have been to many retreat centers. Probably the most significant one was the Abbey of Gethsemani. This is the one where Thomas Merton chose to live out his monastic life. His social justice writings as well as his books on meditation have enlightened me more than once. My first trip to Gethsemani was by myself. Having never been to a monastery before I was more than a little apprehensive. But living in community with homeless, mentally ill, seminary students and other staff in the poorest section of Louisville, KY, I was ready for a spiritual alone time.
I pulled up to the wall that surrounded the cloistered community and pulled into a visitors parking space. I saw no door. I was arriving around 8pm which is late for a monastery, so all was quiet. I had driven down a dirt road to reach the seemingly out of place monastery in Kentucky. The place with the wall and no electrical lights outside was formidable. As I look up and down the wall there was no door that I could see. So, I started walking beside the wall hoping to find an entrance. Just as I was beginning to lose faith that I would find the door. I heard someone clapping behind me. It was a monk with a smile waving me this way. He took me to the gate and once inside to a small office. I had known the Trappists took vows of silence but I had never experienced it before.
The monk led me through registration and showed me my room without a single word. I was left in my room alone. I observed the single bed, chair and desk, night stand with lamp, and wood cylinder to hang a couple of garments. Then I listen; it was total silence. I was living in the inner city of Louisville. I woke up to homeless gathering by the door directly under my window. If they felt I was late opening the door they banged. I almost cried at the silence. The constant pressure of trying to meet everyone’s needs was gone for the next five days.
I slept soundly; upon awakening I went to breakfast. The monks eat facing one way so as to prevent conversation. I looked around at the different visitors and monks. The food was good eggs, toast and their famous cheese. They were also famous for their wine, which must have been kept for themselves because it would not be served with any of the meals.
So, I spent the week listening to Gregorian Chants and Mass. I prayed. I walked the grounds which were hundreds of acres. It was my last day and I had one more thing I wanted to do. Thomas Merton, when he was alive, had a small cabin in the woods where he would write, have visitors and so on. It was his hermitage and I wanted to see it. I had travelled the trails and had been to every section of the monastery’s ground but a section that was off limits to retreatants.
That was where I was going to explore today. Being sure that no one saw me I passed the sign that said monks only. I took an old foot path and within fifteen minutes of walking I saw it. The famous cabin of Thomas Merton. Stealthily I made my way up to the porch. I caught my breath and looked through the window. Just as I did this a monk jumped up from a desk looking out the window. He was laughing. I was in full peeing in pants mode.
After I recovered I smiled at him. He gave me that shame on you look. And I knew it was time for me to return to the retreatant part of the grounds. As I walked back I thought of the homeless whom I felt were constantly invading my personal space and laughed. I was just like them.
I only broke my silence once while I was the monastery. It was when I shrieked “Shit!” at the monk who had jumped out at me. I had thought my first word would be profound. And maybe it was. I leave that up to you to decide.