Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Suffering and Loneliness

Yesterday I was having coffee with some friends on a patio up on Bloor West when an elderly gentleman sat down on the bench in front of us and asked the following:

-Excuse me. I used to work for CIBC and... What do you think the ratio is... of five people... is there one who would buy someone a hamburger?

Immediately the man burst into tears. Each of us looked awkwardly at each other, and as I was the closest to the man, I felt compelled to oblige. I tried to comfort him, reassuredly saying,

-Of course I will. I'll be right back.

So I walked a few store fronts down and bought the man two hamburgers from McDonalds. When I had returned back to the bench, one of my friends was sitting with the man and talking to him. I put my hand on the man's shoulder,

-Here you go. And not just one. I figured you could use two.
-Oh thank you. Thank you. I'll eat this one now, and save the other one for later.

I began to listen to the man as he shared the many reasons for his breakdown. It was rare for him to make it through a sentence without bursting into tears, and holding his face in his hands.

-I am alone, and there is nobody to talk to... (tears). My wife put me in a home down the street a while ago, and now all my family is dead... (sobs). Sometimes I wonder if God is punishing me. Sometimes I ask 'God, why do you hate me?' (more sobbing).

Here are the things I'm noticing about the man at this time: He has an unusually large build up of liquid eye mucus; he has two bracelets, one that says Fall Risk and another with his name, and for some odd reason, a note that he has no family.

-I am lonely. It's so lonely when nobody talks to you. I could be dead on the floor of my room for a week and nobody would notice. How can you be happy when nobody cares?
-Well, perhaps you need to find joy in the small things, like a hamburger at the perfect time.
-You're right, I guess.

He takes some more, slow bites.

-I used to work for CIBC. Lived in Fenelon Falls. I had a big house, and I drove a Mercedes. I had the good life, but it means nothing now. I go to dinner with people and nobody talks. It's just so lonely I... (head in hands) I am so lonely. And I ask God why. Does he not love me?

We're still listening as this goes in circles a little bit.

-It makes you not want to live anymore.

I jump in during a pause.

-That's when you have to appreciate the small things. The clean air to breathe. The sunshine and the green trees. See those pigeons down there?
-Think about it: if God can love even those pigeons at our feet, don't you think he'd love you more?
-Oh I feed the pigeons all the time.

A smile emerges on his face, and lingers for a while before he descends into his wounds of loneliness again. My bet at this point is dementia. He doesn't seem to connect everything, and yet there are moments of real clarity - specifically when speaking about the milestones of success that are now meaningless. He sure seems connected to his old Mercedes, and to the truth that the desired vehicle speaks no life into his suffering and loneliness. We talk for a few more minutes before he heads on his way. We make sure to let him know we really appreciated and enjoyed talking to him, and that he was worth talking to. He smiles, clings to his cane and McDonald's bag, and leaves. Very slowly.

This whole episode reminded me of a prince many millennia ago who left his castle to observe the people outside his gate, and all he found was suffering. He went on to teach many that all of the world is suffering; that suffering is truth. I don't buy it though. I am ever thankful that though suffering and loneliness are a part of this life, there is one who speaks belovedness to creation, and I can't help but wonder what this man's life would be like if he knew he was loved. Because he is.

In this moment I saw Hauerwas, Nouwen, and my calling all intertwined.


Andrew said...

you are right about dementia or some sort of mental disorder - the name is so he knows who he is and if someone finds him they can identify him - the fall risk i would assume is code for something like suicide watch, th psych ward at sinai used things like that all the time

Merrirose said...

David, this entry has moved me to tears. Not just for the agony of this man's questions, but for the fact that you all responded with love. Forget the fact that he could be a "scammer" or someone who the world would deem "crazy". As followers of Jesus Christ, you brought the gospel through a burger, through a touch, through listening to the deepest longing of this man's heart, and you met it with the love of Jesus.
SO many people, me included, have battled lonliness, and questioned God...you stepped into this dark place with this gentleman...and had the honor of carrying his burdern for him. Even if only for a short while.
I have the double honor of having you as my biological brother, and as a brother in Christ.

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