I noticed him early in the afternoon, while I was walking the halls to visit other people on the unit. He was very busy… making his bed, walking down to get some water from the kitchen, spraying the room with deodorizer. When I’d peek in, he’d make eye contact.
I knew he was “the hippie” that my mentor had mentioned in our debrief time. And I’m sort of glad I saved his visit for later in the shift. It was like a reward- a little dessert after an afternoon that included the sort of intense visits that are good in the way that vegetables are good for you.
I introduced myself and made note of how active he was – how that was so different from most of our patients that I enjoyed seeing him make himself at home. Ironic- given that he’d been without a home for most of the past 20 years.
His story was like a case study for social work students: addiction, prison, multiple squandered opportunities, living on the streets when he’d run out of couches and shelters, and sojourns through many a 12-Step Program. And here he was in a hospice unit, reading a magazine devoted to understanding the Psalms.
We talked a lot about a cluster of questions I’d been wrestling with of late- maybe because I needed to have something to say on this particular afternoon. If salvation comes by grace through faith, why do we feel like the things we do (good or sinful) make us any more or less likely to be saved? Why do some people have confidence in their salvation when others struggle? How can God not get tired of our asking forgiveness for the same thing over and over and over again?
But the moment that touched me more deeply than anything else in our conversation was when I asked him how I could pray for him, he really took some time to think. His requests have really stuck with me because I know that these were not stock answers. He wanted to give thanks for the help he was getting in finding someplace safe to live as his disease progresses. And he asked that I pray for a church or faith community to be part of – one that would help him grow in his faith.
I would love to be in community with him. He was more honest and self-aware than most human beings I’ve ever met. I want for him what I want for me – a place to ask questions and struggle to understand God’s Word and Jesus’s work. And people who love him just as he is, and just as he will be as the Holy Spirit does her work day by day. People he can love just as they are and just as they will be. You know… neighbors.