Tuesday, February 09, 2016

You never know who you might meet

A friend of mine is dying of kanswer. (Kanswer sucks!) She is in a hospice house here in Charlotte. I've visited with her several times over the past few weeks - talking with her, telling stories, laughing, sitting silent. I've read to her and sung to her and described to her some church services and events she has missed lately. I'm not sure how much she understands these days, but that hardly matters. I'm honored to be able to sit with her, sometimes alone and sometimes with her children in the room, as she makes her way along this final stretch of her life's journey.

Today when I went to see her, I had to wait outside her room for a while as she was being cared for by one of the saints who works there. As I stood there in the hallway, I was approached by a woman who introduced herself to me as a hospice volunteer. Cane in one hand, list of hospice guests in the other, she told me that she has volunteered there for eleven years, making her way down the corridors, into and out of rooms, chatting with, listening to, holding hands with, praying with and for those who find themselves facing the end of life. She talked about some people not wanting her to pray with them or for them. She told me about the supreme value of simply being present with and for those who find themselves facing the end, but not facing it alone.

Somehow our conversation rolled around to the disappointment of our beloved Carolina Panthers losing the Super Bowl on Sunday. A woman in her 70s, at least, she talked about how sad she was for the team and the city - after such a great football season for our hometown team. Then she said something I wasn't prepared for - she said something like this: "All the money that is spent on that one game - it's immoral, immoral, immoral. There are so many people living in the streets, it's immoral. That's right; I said it. I said it."

Yup, she said it alright. She said it.

I agreed and added, "And so often, we talk about there not being money to fix our broken school system, to feed the hungry, to get homeless people off the streets, and to fix the water problem in Flint, Michigan. But then we spend so much money on sports. I heard that the amount of money spent on security alone was outrageous. I agree with you - it's immoral."

When I added, "But I am encouraged by -" she interrupted me and said, "Please, tell me what you're encouraged by because I'm not feeling very encouraged about the state of things these days."

So I went on, "I am encouraged by the people who are working for justice, to change our school system, to get permanent housing for the homeless, to feed the hungry. That gives me hope."

Our conversation lasted a few more minutes, until she said she needed to move on down the hall to visit with patients and their visitors. But before we parted company, she seemed to hesitate. To linger. I wondered what she was waiting for, and then she said something else I wasn't prepared for: "Can I hug you? Because you have been a blessing to me today."

So she, a white southern woman in her 70s, and I, a black woman, previously-northern, now-southern, a mere 57 days after turning 50 (yes, I'm still counting the days), embraced there in the hallway of a hospice house here in Charlotte, NC.

After the caretaker had done her divine duty and exited, I entered the room of my friend, the one who is surely in her final days of life on this side of the great river of life, smiling, shaking my head, grateful for the delay in being able to see her, grateful for the exchange I had had with an unlikely ally, an unexpected sister in the family of faith. Because you never know who you might meet in the hallway of a hospice house before sitting with a dear one.

PS. Kanswer SUCKS!!!

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