Thursday, September 04, 2008


At work/church, I see a lot of people in need. I'm in the front, so most of them come to me first. One regular is an elderly man who wears an Illinois sweatshirt no matter what kind of weather we're having. I've seen him come in wearing that sweatshirt on days that are swelteringly hot, rainy days, you name it. He always says he needs eight dollars for a bus pass, and although I suspect he visits a lot of churches and tells the same story, I always try to get him some cash. He likes to talk about Chicago; usually he wants to talk about the time the elevated train (the "el") derailed a couple of years ago. He never smiles, and usually looks a little shell-shocked. I can understand this. Once he told me about getting into a fight with someone, though, and I couldn't imagine this frail, lost man having enough energy to fight anyone.

We used to have a regular who demanded help from us. The guy was youngish, in his late twenties or early thirties perhaps, and looked like about 250 pounds of pure muscle. He said he didn't "do well" with women, and we always referred him to a male pastor. This guy was known to come to Sunday services and pick fights with certain men (huge, hot, widowed, retired firefighter included). Luckily he found another church to attend after his demands grew too large for us.

One woman came in and said her husband was in the restroom, too embarrassed to ask for help. She said she had a heart condition and that she and her husband and two twin girls were living in their car. Our senior pastor talked with her and got her on her feet. She was not a regular.

For a while there was a man who would call me every day and ask for help. He said he and his wife and son were staying in a motel and couldn't pay the bill. I did what I could for him, including looking online for various agencies that could really help him (unfortunately churches just don't have the kind of money it takes to pay daily hotel bills and such). I wish I could've done more.

A young married couple in our congregation occasionally needs help paying bills and procuring treatment for one of their young sons, who has ADD and a few other diagnoses. This family breaks my heart because they obviously favor their other son who is "normal" and seem to loathe their "sick" son. Our children's pastor is working with them and their situation weighs on us all.

We have a congregant who believes she's a minister and speaks in a joyful, rambling, incoherent manner. She's delightful, and yet no one quite understands her. One of our other congregants has taken her under her wing.

Last Thursday, a man in his mid-thirties came in and asked for help. His command of the English language was only fair, and I had to work to speak slowly and listen very closely. Our children's pastor also spoke with him, but she spoke way too fast and went off on a couple of tangents, so the man turned his attention to me again. I took him into a semi-private room when he said he needed to keep his situation confidential. Turned out he was from Mexico and has AIDS; he'd even brought his entire medical folder with him in case we wanted proof. I listened to him for a while until another pastor returned from lunch and took over.

I often think about all these people and have wished I could do something meaningful for them. Lately I've considered that what I do is meaningful: I listen. I may not be able to hand out church funds or fix their problems, but I can listen. I try to remember that their contact with me might be one of the only times they find someone who will listen - that day, that week.

Thanks for listening to me.