I just got home from church where I sobbed nearly the whole time. I’m up in the attic that we’ve transformed into a chapel space and listening to a soothing Pandora station where Cademon’s Call is expressing my pain:
The prince of despairs been beaten Lord
But the loser still fights
Death’s on a long leash
Stealing my friends to the night
And everyone cries for the innocent
You say to love the guilty too
And I’m surrounded by suffering and sickness
So I’m working tearing back the roof
I’m blogging again for myself today. My hope is that in processing the experiences of living this JUSTembrace lifestyle, I will encourage some, challenge others – but mostly – find some sense of peace and comfort in sharing with others the gifts and sufferings of life.
One of our dearest friends passed away this winter, but we didn’t find out for two months. Just last week we had a memorial service for him with dozens in attendance. It was a beautiful service celebrating his friendship and honoring his battle in this life. The grief is still so fresh and real. Sometimes, like today, I feel like I am just beginning to grieve the loss of Anthony.
There were no clear health threats he was dealing with – he had been in our home just days before his death, helping us host our first several holiday dinners. Tuesday, a few days before the memorial, I stopped by the building he was living in when he passed, finally getting to speak to the building manager. She gave me the information I needed, but desperately did not want to hear. Anthony’s death seemed to be related to his relapse into alcoholism.
After more than a dozen years sober and a year of friendship, our sweet doorman had started drinking again. I remember him stopping by the gate, offering to share a bottle of wine together (which I declined), assuring me he was only drinking casually, and it wasn’t a problem. Then, months later came the arrest for an open container. When he stopped by to tell me that, I showed my concern, but more so reminded him he knew better. I was alarmed, but unsure how to come alongside a nearly 60 yr old man – a product of the foster care system, a veteran, and a formerly homeless man who had, in three years of friendship, still shared very little of the demons that wrestled him into despair.
What can I conclude then that his death was in a way self-inflicted to alleviate the suffering of his precious soul? How can I blame him when I don’t know the pain of abandonment or the lack of a safe and nurturing relationship your entire life? How can I begin to understand the suffering of one who has been seen as a threat his whole life because of his skin color – even though his soul was that of a peacemaker?
His building manager told me with her eyes downcast, unable to watch the tears streaming down my face as she said; “When he moved in he said he had no one. He said he was all alone in this world, and his emergency contact was the police.”
I’m still angry at Anthony over that. He moved into that building only a few weeks after the shooting where I spent so much time with him, both of us resting in the presence of the other, knowing the deep pain and fear the experiences we’d had caused us. It had only been a few weeks since I’d rescued him from the media, trying to exploit his suffering. It had only been a few weeks since he called me from the hospital after being shot, but none of those things warranted putting my name as his emergency contact?! Yeah, I’m still a little angry about that.
A few weeks ago another dear member of our community, a man who has been with us from the beginning and remained faithful and committed to our community, came out from a month in rehab and started attending church with us on Sundays. We gather for prayer as a house at 9am, then walk to church around 9:45. He has been consistently at the gate at 9:00am each Sunday since exiting rehab.
Today, on the way to church, seemingly out of nowhere, he confessed that he had gone to rehab not just for his addiction, but because his addiction had led him to attempt suicide twice in one night. After a bottle of Ibuprofen only gave him a long sleep, he woke up and went to his case manager and got help.
He confessed the role of lying and deception – telling people at all of his meetings that he wasn’t using. He confessed that he’d pretended to be someone he wasn’t. He also told us that he thought about us every day while he was in rehab, wondering what we thought of him.
What do we think of you, dear friend? We think you are beautiful. We see your friendship as a miracle from God and the gift of Christ’s presence in our home and lives. We see you as a man with so much to give others with your joy and your smile. Warren calls you “Mr. Happy” not just because you always seem happy, but because your enthusiasm is contagious! You bring deep joy to our lives!
When a grown man has been abandoned by his birth parents; when he has been abused by adults who were entrusted with his care; when he has been mistreated by teachers and police and peers…. when a man has never had a real friend in his entire 56 years of life – what does a sudden offer of loving community do to him?
I can’t help but feel somewhat responsible for the self-destructive struggles of my friends. If a person has learned to cope with the pains of abandonment and isolation by keeping thick and sturdy walls surrounding their hearts – the offer of Spirit-filled love threatens to crumble the very foundations that have kept his mental and emotional stability in tact for decades. While I firmly believe that Christ can both love us and sustain us, that doesn’t mean we can always cling to Christ in life when life is overwhelming or when we are just growing to know Christ and understand the hope we can have in Him. Losing the earthly battle is not the same as losing the spiritual one.
If this is true, if true community can lead us into seemingly darker despair than numbing isolation, is it better for our friends to have a few years of love awakening them to joys and passions otherwise not experienced, possibly encountering the love of Christ for the first time in their lives – even if it leads to their inability to cope with the pain no longer being numbed – than it is to live longer lives that are lonely and neglected?
Maybe I’m missing another option, but the way I see it, I would personally rather lose the earthly battle each human endures with friends in my heart and by my side than to live a long cold life with no room for love or pain. Maybe survival isn’t the goal. Maybe suffering together is? Perhaps the victory is in the pain?