Magazine article The Christian Century

Thanks for What?

Magazine article The Christian Century

Thanks for What?

Article excerpt

"I THOUGHT WE MIGHT ..." I am sitting in my friend's bedroom. He's struggling to say something but I'm not sure what he has in mind so I smile to encourage him. Eventually he says, "Maybe we could do some bread and wine. Eucharist."

I hadn't seen my friend for two years. It breaks my heart to see him like this.

Once he was a renaissance man. He played jazz: we used to go out for a drink and he'd sidle up to the band and offer his services at the piano and take the saxophonist to the cleaners. He taught public school: he challenged at-risk youth to write poems, to believe in themselves and share the glory of literature. He climbed mountains, he painted, he played guitar, he baked. He even knitted. His piercing, intense brown eyes listened to you as if you were the only one in the world. He was handsome, tall, charming: if he ever asked a beautiful woman up to see his etchings, she'd have been a fool not to go.

But ten years ago post-viral fatigue snared him and never abated; he had to sign off on work. He was restricted to a small circumference around the home, then had to rent out half his house to survive financially. The walls of his life started to retract inward, like a melodramatic movie. While my life went from England to the United States and back, his life stood still.

I tried to see him at least once a year. There would always be a way I could detour from a speaking engagement or family road trip. I aspired to be the only person in his life who wasn't constantly sending him links to websites with practical help or miraculous cures. But my time became more circumscribed, and his health more unpredictable. So this time it had been two years.

This time together was gentle and tender. Old conversations about traversing edgy mountain passes or attempting overly ambitious recipes came flooding back. His eyes still glint; his chuckle still invites a smile. And then Eucharist. He does faith the way he does everything else: he makes it so much more interesting than other people do. Trouble was, when I went down to the kitchen there was no wine. So it was a crust and Cinzano celebration.

And suddenly every word mattered. "The Lord be with you." Who else had stayed with him these ten wilderness years? "We are sorry ..." What had he done to deserve this? How to confess when someone is evidently more sinned against than sinning? …

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