Everyone in our neighborhood contributes to the general well being of a particular gentleman. We pitch in by buying him bananas and ice cream. Others do his laundry. Some repair his faulty appliances. Friends take him home from the post office or pick him up for church. Neighbors strategically place chairs on the road in case he takes a walk. When he says you are my very best friends, I know he means each and every one of us.
There is a barrier to communicating with him. He has perpetually lost his hearing aid. Sometimes he finds one. It makes communicating with him difficult. I believe he enjoys the personal contact, though, if not the conversation. He likes to sit at the table and take a break from “lonesome headquarters.” He watches family dance around the kitchen and dogs beg for treats from his pockets. He smiles at the busyness of it all, even when he can’t hear a word we are saying.
He has very few teeth which limits his diet. Occasionally he will join us for a meal of soft food broken into microscopic bites. My boys have figured out they can include him in the conversation if they write notes. Then they sit and listen patiently as he responds with stories of his life long ago. He requires very little feedback.
I want to be truthful about this situation. There are times when I see him coming to the gate and I heave a great sigh. I have to corral the dogs and put dinner on hold and stop doing homework with the boys. It is the interruption of busyness and the flurry of activity that he causes that makes me feel selfishly burdened at times. And then the yelling and the writing of notes and the shooing of the dogs, again.
It’s this “burden” that’s really taught me the most about drawing a wide circle. Relationships are messy and we can’t tie them up in a pretty bow. It is an effort to be friends, and still we show up as our messy selves. He travels what must feel like a great distance to ask questions about answers he cannot hear. Everyday he figures out the best way to survive on his own. My only burden is an incomplete perspective.
Being alone is the longest journey humanity has to endure. I want him to feel welcome and at home when he is with us. For however short the amount of time we entertain him, I hope his loneliness subsides. He reminds me that relationships are messy and inconvenient and require work. He reminds me to move towards the people I meet with curiosity and compassion. He reminds me that my circle is never wide enough and whatever little I, or anyone has to offer, multiplies for him.