Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Monday, October 6, 2008

"Now he's dead..."

I am taking a break from preparing a funeral for a man who collapsed and died over the weekend and I need to talk... it does not matter if anyone listens. My first meeting with this man happened about 19 years ago when he walked into my office. We will call him "Jim"... Jim came into my church office and asked for a food parcel to tie him over till benefit day. His story was that he had to pay a hefty fine for being caught drunk driving and had run out of cash. I gave him the food parcel, a cup of tea and we sat and talked. That was the first of many visits to my office. He never asked for food again but he sure enjoyed the listening ear and the cup of tea. He got involved in the Church walking group and a wider group of people reached out to him in friendship. I towed his car and helped fix his car. I visited him and transported him. I helped him move house three times. He got mad with me and my church on a couple of occasions and wrote me nasty personal insulting letters, and I worked through that with him. He was quite deaf but would not recognise it, so I made an appointment for myself to get a hearing test and invited him to keep me company and got him one too. We were like two mates on a hearing test adventure together. At times he would ring me up at 2 or 3 in the morning and he would suppossedly be having "flashbacks" to Vietnam days, and be out of his tree. Over the years I have listened to the same stories again and again as he would love to share his memories. I married him eight years ago to an older lady and they have cared for each other since that time. "Jim" ended up in much better circumstances and encountered a whole lot of love and friendship from a wider group of people because of my involvement in his life. It has been an interesting journey and now he is dead. Tomorrow people will see me as the minister leading an adequate funeral for "Jim". They will not see that inside I am sobbing and one of the chief mourners.

Why this pain? I was not really close to "Jim" as a buddy? There was still much about his life and attitudes that I ached about and disliked? Why am I grieving? Here is my theory. Jim was a guy whose life was deeply hurt and wounded by life. His childhood, broken relationships, military service, the company he kept, the booze and more all led to a very broken life when he walked into my office nineteen years ago. To help facilitate some healing and mending I, like a car's shock absorber, have had to absorb and carry a lot of that brokenness and hurt in different ways. I have invested in his life heaps of spiritual and emotional energy. And now that he is dead that spiritual tiredness, that hurt and pain float to the surface of my life somehow, and I feel it all over again in one big lump. This aching for other peoples' lives is a part of ministry. "Jim's" death in a way exposes my loneliness. No one can fully understand or take away this aching inside that is part of this crazy journey I am on. Like the old country song says, "You gotta walk that lonely valley, you gotta walk it by yourself." It's a lonely calling and you would have thought I would have got used to that by now. Now he's dead I have to talk... that's why today I blogged.

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