Monday, February 1, 2010

A Precious Life

Linda. I remember her: a tall, slender woman with long blond hair parted down the middle. Fastidiously clean. No hand-me-down clothes or blankets, nothing that could have any germs from a previous owner. Life was such a struggle for her. She lived here. There. A trailer. Nothing permanent. Finally, she sold the few possessions she had. She chose to be homeless. Or, rather, she lived at a homeless center. She paid for her board by cleaning the building. It gave her a kind of satisfaction. She knew how to do her job, for sure, she told herself.

She liked living that way, working alone...didn't run into two many people. "Just keep doing what you know best," and even though it tired her out, she knew it was by far the best kind of work for her. Other jobs gave people too much power over her. Didn't like that at all. They always wanted to keep her back. Down. Be mean. Cold outside in the winter, too.Too long 'a walk to get to a job.

She kept to herself."Don't like nobody to know my business. Too many busybodies and that ain't good at all." She didn't know when it all started but little by little, she cut off even those she had trusted. Betrayal did that to ya. Somehow ya end up in prison overnight or locked up in a hospital. "Don't want no medicine. No way I'm gonna be drugged up. I got a daughter." They take everything you love away. Who can you trust?

Brittany. She thought of her daughter. Severely handicapped. But her joy. "Well, I got my pride but I will bend that pride for a phone card to call Brittany." It was the only thing she would bend it for. They took her baby away when she got too big to care for. So hard to lift her. They said she couldn't care for her properly. Or didn't. How would they know? She'd lost track of who sent her away. The State? The neighbors? It didn't matter anymore. She knew they all got it wrong. How did they know what she could do, or just how much she loved her daughter? When they did that, a part of her died inside. The phone was her lifeline. She called Brittany every week to the special home where she'd been taken. She would call her every day if she had the money to buy more phone cards. Sometimes she dreamed that she did.

Nobody understood her. She had to rely on herself. Just herself. "I can trust me." Well, she did let a few into her life. Carolyn. She wouldn't hurt her. She knew she cared. Came from a good family. She brought phone cards, and took her out for a bit. Sometimes to the grocery store. Sometimes to the 7-11. She brought phone cards and money for smokes. Sometimes she tried to convince her to take hand-me-downs but she kept her standard up, and refused. She didn't hold it against her though. She knew Carolyn just wished her to have a warm coat ... or pants ... or sturdy shoes.

She called Carolyn once a week. Woulda called her more but she knew that Carolyn was busy with her own family. Didn't want to be too familiar. "I like my freedom," she'd say but whenever Carolyn came she found herself feeling happy, and relieved. Wouldn't have to walk all that way to the store. Just a short drive. Some cigarettes and a phone card. Callin' ya soon, baby girl. Sometimes hard to remember her baby was almost thirty.

Sometimes the sister came too. Lately she started bringing a cane. Had some kind of a vision problem. Not too bad, though, mostly dropped her off at the library while she and Carolyn shopped. She didn't always feel that way. In the beginning, she didn't like her coming and intruding on her time that way. But little by little she got used to her. Kinda reminded her of the mom, who'd helped her in the past.

Life went on in the same way for some time. Then, everything changed. Suddenly, the pain came. Terrible, horrible pain. She wanted to scream and scream with the pain. She kept it inside when she could. But called Carolyn. She would know what to do. The pain felt so bad, she started calling her three or maybe six times a day, depending on the pain. Somehow she could make her feel better. A little bit anyway. When Carolyn came, she felt she'd been given a lifeline. Things just seemed more in control.

They said it was blood poisoning. And bone cancer. Never felt anything so terrible before. She called and called. Only Carolyn. "No, not leaving my place at the homeless shelter." Can't you see this is my home? Don't have any family. She did but had closed herself off from them. Couldn't trust 'em. Carolyn helped, did what she could. When she came, she could close her eyes. She felt safe. At last.

I remember seeing Linda shortly before she died. Thin, gaunt, but fiercely independent. "They keep on cluttering my place up," she'd motioned to the area around her hospital bed at the county home, muttering darkly. I wondered if she considered my Christmas ornament to her part of the clutter. She didn't want the Christmas tree, nor the television, nor a radio. She wanted it all be neat and tidy. She wanted nothing. Nothing but Brittany. And her continued privacy. She chose who to let into her life. "Those people at the shelter--they are not my family. I don't have any family. Don't call them that," she said sharply. "I don't want anyone calling Brittany either. This is my life. My. Own. Life."

That day the pain made her burst into tears as my sister, Carolyn, tried to bring circulation into her legs. She thought Carolyn bumped something integral to her catheter. I had to leave. I felt that I would burst into tears myself. My heart broke for Linda who longed for the old control over life -- but would never have it again. She was used to ordering people about. But now she was at the mercy of my sister's schedule to receive her caring ministrations. Whether she knew it or not, Carolyn had become her closest friend-no, even more--her family! Linda let down her guard, let her tears flow, didn't monitor her words--everything one does with family when she was around my sister. I stepped out of the room to stop the queasiness in my stomach and get a grip on my emotions. I couldn't break down now.

That was the last time I saw Linda.

She held the hand of an employee at the Geriatric Center as she passed away this past month - her hand in the hand of a stranger's hand. My sister couldn't be with her the day she died and this made me feel the saddest of all. I knew that was a hard choice for my sister as she had to travel with her husband. But I wonder what Linda felt that last day. And I wonder how my sister felt.

I like to think the prayers my sister, her husband and I prayed with her would lead her to put her hand in the Master's hand as she crossed over to be with Him.

I choose to think that's how it was. My heart now sings for her. The day before when she admitted to being afraid, my sister's friends told Linda, "You don't have to be afraid if you're God's child." She nodded and allowed them to pray for and with her. It seems that for the first time in her life she had come to a place of calm, which allowed her at the end of her life to slip paranoia, no distrust, simply calm.

I cry only for myself and those who loved her because we never could reach her. She never realized how precious she was... and she touched me sooo.

1 comment:

  1. When we witness the suffering of others as retold about Linda's life we wonder how could God in his loving mercy for his creation even allow us the free will to block his love, even free will turned to stuborness to the point of severe distrust and paranoia. Why do we become confused? Mentally ill? Even cutting off those of this world who try to love us. I have known and know people like Linda in varying degrees of distrust. Today at church we studied Saul, (a Hebrew of Hebrews) and his fall from pride and arrogance and vengence to yielding his will to our Savior Jesus Christ. It is the Lord's desire that all should be saved and not perish. When we accept that our mission is to let all know about the saving power of Jesus Christ we wonder why we cannot 'reach' people who break our hearts when we see that they are like Camus' hunger artist (who starved hiself to oblvion to spite the fickle public who no longer 'cared' about him). We see the failure of our reason, the failure of our human systems and our best intentioned efforts.We are humbled and resort to prayer to step in for our friends who cannot break what ever binds them to the power of this world. Three days ago one of my son's friends was shot to death during a gang fight. As he cried out that 'He did not want to die a man ran from his house and prayed with and over him as he died in the street." Sufficient is the evil of the day and the madness of this world.