5:34 PM Another sermon is successfully delivered. I suppose some day I will take this all for granted, but now, every time I get through one without some disaster, real or imagined, I feel like going out to celebrate. Today was a hint of what life could be like once this journey culminates in ordination: I preached at 8 a.m., gave a presentation at the adult education forum, preached again at 10 a.m., then attended a rehearsal of the motet choir. Whew!

Courage Comes in Many Guises

I visited her again this week. I hadn't seen her since before Christmas, what with the trip to Mexico, the Islam class, and all. I wasn't sure what to expect; after all, the insensitive doctor had told her in July that she had two weeks to live. This was after he told her the brain tumor was malignant and there was a large spot on her lungs. She had asked for a referral to our large and well-respected cancer clinic. "Why bother?" he asked her, "You only have a couple weeks."

She sounded perky on the phone when I called to see if she was up to some company. Except for her Bruce Willis hairdo, she looked just as perky as she had sounded when she answered the door. We talked and laughed and gossiped. What we didn't do was cry or moan. She counts every day a miracle, and enjoys it to the fullest.

Her hand shakes a little when she is pouring tea, and she moves slowly. But she has no pain, just extreme tiredness, and she is still very much the hub of her large family. Her daughter lives across the street with 4 children; she has three sons who each have two children and who live within 15 miles of her. She sees the boys often, and sees her daughter every day.

She has twin granddaughters in the lively house across the street, and a third granddaughter that is only a year or so younger. The boy, my friend's pride and joy, is a senior in high school and is being wooed by several colleges. The twins are legally blind from medication given them when they were born. At almost 15, they are comfortable in their skin, energetic, happy, good students, and a great help to my friend. In this small village in which we live, they have been able to ignore their handicap and live normal lives, riding bikes, playing ball, baby-sitting for young cousins, and generally being teenage girls.

I figure they get this irrepressible attitude from their grandmother.

The downside of all this is the inability of my friend's husband to cope with any of this. He was in a terrible accident a few years ago, and has trouble walking. I also think there may have been some mild brain damage. He has never been what one might call a thoughtful husband; I could fill several pages with some of the foolish things he has done over the years. But now, his method of handling this terminal illness of his wife's is to ignore it. I mean IGNORE it.

He can't face it. I realize this, but when she tries so hard to make life in that household as normal as ever, it would be nice if he at least acknowledged it. His latest shenanigan was to buy her a puppy. ? ! @@##%%##@@. She really needs one, you know, one that poops every place and chews up everything in sight. The capper was that one of her sons, the one who is most like his dad, brought over HIS new puppy and gave it to her, because he couldn't cope with it anymore.

They finally destroyed something valuable of her husband's, so they are now relegated to the garage, where they are eating the insulation off the walls. I know, I know, she should rebel. But after 40+ years of marriage and with a terminal illness, it is easier to grit one's teeth. By-the-way, I pieced this all together myself, observing what was happening, listening between the lines. I saw the tiredness in her face and the frustration in her eyes. She didn't complain to me.

I read Dee's journal today, about the old man who has been coming into the store where she works. And I thought about another courageous soul I knew in the past. The first month we opened the fabric shop, a scruffy man, with a many-days unshaven face minus front teeth, bleached-blonde hair tied in an unkempt pony tail, and a woman's pink jacket, came in to look around. I knew who he was, and that he was a mild-mannered person, but couldn't imagine why he was interested in my lovely up-scale fabrics.

He spent a long time looking around, feeling the fabric, asking prices, and generally acting like a genuine customer. Eventually, he put a bolt of chiffon up on the counter, and asked me to measure it and figure out how much the bolt would be. I went along with the game; I figured he just needed to be inside where he was warm, and where there were people who would be kind to him. I did as he asked, and he said, "Would you write this down for me on your stationery, and include all the information, like price-per-yard, yardage, total cost plus tax?" I did this and he asked me to keep the bolt behind the counter for 5 days and if he wasn't back with the money, put it back on the shelf. "But I will be back," he assured me.

I didn't know how I really felt about this, but figured I wouldn't lose anything keeping it behind the counter for the 5 days. Sure enough, he came in the fifth day, with a bank check for the exact amount, written out to our shop. I packed up the bolt for him, and he left with perfuse thanks.

This was the first of many, many similar transactions with this man. I knew he was a transvestite, and I also knew he was abused by a certain segment of the society. He had an alcohol problem, although I never saw him when he had been drinking. He would disappear from the scene periodically, either drying out, or in a stupor somewhere.

When I was in a cast and DB had to run the shop for me, C. came every day to see if we needed him to run any errands. He would bring me a milkshake, or a large cup of coffee, and coffee for DB. When we moved our shop from the building we had unadvisedly purchased into a rented space in the middle of town, C. was there to help pack. He then would run down to the new site and stand in a parking place, keeping it free for the pickup truck that carried our goods. When everything was finally moved (by other friends who were also struggling retailers), C. stayed with us until every last bolt of fabric was on its new shelf, and all the buttons and zippers and threads were in place. He left around 3:30 that a.m., just ahead of DB and me, and was back later in the morning when we opened for business at 10:00, running out to get us some coffee.

Somewhere during those 5 years of being a shop owner, I learned that C. was waiting for an operation to make the change that would help him become who he felt he should be. I also saw him be the recipient of terrible verbal abuse (only once did someone try to have anything to say about C. in my shop...and that creep was the only person I ever ejected from my shop). I also learned that he was a very talented dress designer. I never saw anything that he made; we would sew up the long seams, then he finished everything by hand. However, I DID see his fashion sketches, which he would draw for our dressmaker to show her where the long seams had to go.

I would see him on the street occasionally, when I was doing errands. Sometimes he would stop and chat, other times he kept his eye averted and scooted on by. I wondered if he avoided me when he was drinking.

I counted him a loyal friend, and he was one I was sorry not to see before we closed shop for the last time. I rarely was downtown after that, and lost touch with him. I never did know where he lived; he was very closed-mouth about his private life, except for a snippet here and there. But he was always ready to help; always ready to run an errand. I enjoyed his company and have wondered since those days what role he played in my journey. Was he one of "the least of these?" More than once I saw the face of Christ in him.

Life is full of courageous people. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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