When Audrey was a few months old, I pushed or carried her around the neighborhood. In time we became familiar with many of our neighbors and their pets.
I most enjoyed running into Louie, one of those old men who routinely and carefully feeds birds and squirrels. Louie was tall and thin, still robust and a bit rough around the edges. But his kindness toward animals won Audrey over. And his sharp wit betrayed a personality accustomed to responsibility and authority. I learned that he'd seen Europe from the air during World War II and subsequently had been a jet pilot and flight instructor. So the love of flying, the outdoors and squirrels became our common ground. Occasionally I saw Margaret, his wife, from a distance. She seemed as full of life and humor as he.
But one day they disappeared. In walks and drives by their house, I never again saw Louie carefully placing nuts in particular spots under the bushes, tossing birdseed in his side yard or simply observing the animals.
Quite out of the blue — after a school year without seeing Louie and Margaret — another neighbor told me they were at the Woodbine Nursing Home. My first visit was too late to see Margaret, who had recently died. But I began visiting Louie once or twice a week.
Years later I realized my approach to nursing home residents was self-centered. I was the "good guy" who visited people who weren't even relatives. I was avoiding what was most difficult but what my friends at the nursing home probably needed more than a visit: They needed some expression of appreciation for what they were doing for someone else.
I learned so much from Louie, about the war and life in and around Chicago afterward. He occasionally took me back to the 1930s. I couldn't get enough of his stories. But I said nothing about what I got out of our visits. I never expressed to Louie what he contributed to my life.
For example, I was reading Seabiscuit at the time. When Louie told me he remembered when people would exclaim to strangers on the street, "How 'bout that Biscuit?" I felt as if I were witnessing history firsthand. I couldn't believe my good fortune. Yet once again I was silent, somehow refusing to afford Louie the pleasure of knowing how much he was affecting me. I did thank him for his service each time I saw him, referring to what he'd done for our country as a member of the "Greatest Generation."
One day I found Louie in his bed turned away from the door, which was unusual. I heard his labored breathing, noticed the transparency of his skin and sensed that this was our last moment together. Before I left, I checked the clock. It was a little after 1 p.m.
Sure enough, I received a call three hours later that Louie had died. I asked the time and the nurse said a little after 1 p.m. Apparently Louie had died within a minute or two after I had placed my hand on his head in prayer.
I share this not so you know what I did. Rather, I want to surface what happened to me because of Louie, things I never got around to telling him. For starters, he's the reason I go back every week to visit Ivy, Mary and Herb. It's dawned on me that the word "sacred" perfectly describes my feelings about what I've witnessed in the nursing home. These residents are sacred. Their stories and lives are sacred. Our time shared is sacred.
Thanks be to God, who used the process of writing Louie's story to help me finally realize the importance of graciously accepting what those nursing-home residents are giving me.
Check out this week's articles:
A crisis & faith: (right) Unemployment ... investment loss ... home foreclosures ... bailouts ... recession.
Facing hard times: Be confident, careful, grateful and generous.
Congregations in tough economic times: The economic climate pushes the church to be clear about mission.
Stewardship during an economic crisis: What a recession means for congregational giving.Also: Tips for tough times.
Discuss the faith implications of a faltering economy
March 17-24: Join Ed Kruse (right), ELCA director for stewardship, to discuss the faith implications of a faltering economy.
In "Tips for tough times," Kruse suggests these tips for congregations “to grow a culture of generosity”: 1. Don't panic. 2. Transform spending habits. 3. Save. 4. Continue to give.
This week on our blog:
Sonia Solomonson (right) asks: "What do we want?"
Amber Leberman asks: "What's in a (domain) name?"
Tell us! Pastor goofs
For some of you it was just last Sunday, for others it was years ago. Pastors, please share with us your funniest — yes, likely embarrassing — ministry stories.
The March issue of The Little Lutheran has arrived!
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Introducing The Little Christian
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